The US military is reportedly allowing the free movement of senior Taliban leaders to attend peace talks in the Afghan capital, in what is probably the clearest indication that the US administration will publicly support negotiations aimed at ending the nine-year conflict.
The New York Times reported on Thursday, quoting a senior Nato official, that "there has been outreach by very senior members of the Taliban to the highest levels of the Afghan government".
Though the talks are preliminary, the official said, the prospect of negotiating a settlement of the war effort, is alluring enough that Nato personnel "have indeed facilitated to various degrees the contacts" by allowing Taliban leaders to travel to the Afghan capital.
The revelation comes amid public backing by the White House of the idea of Afghan reconciliation talks with the Taliban, just before Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said that his government had been holding such talks for "quite some time".
Al Jazeera Sue Turton, reporting from Kabul, said that the movement of senior Taliban leaders based in Pakistan has been very difficult, therefore the Karzai government has resorted to talking to leaders in Afghanistan.
"It's mainly been about talking about talks, but if the Taliban want to talk further, the Afghan government says they must abide by its three conditions - the laying down of arms, to cut ties with al-Qaeda, and to respect the Afghan constitution, particularly human rights."
Against this backdrop, Karzai has told Al Jazeera's Frost over the World programme - to be aired on Friday - that he has held face-to-face meetings with senior members of the Taliban.
"I have had personal meetings with some Taliban leaders and my colleagues from my government have had some meetings in and outside Afghanistan with the Taliban," he told Al Jazeera's David Frost.
"These have mostly been unofficial after contact was initiated, countryman to countryman talks. But now is the time for us to begin to talk with the Taliban at a fixed address and with a more open agenda to tell us how to bring peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan."
|The UN Security Council has extended Isaf's mandate in Afghanistan for another 12 months [EPA]
The Taliban has always publicly denied that its leaders are in talks, and on Wednesday the group again denied it is holding peace talks with the Afghan government.
In a statement the Taliban said that Karzai's claims that such talks are being held are "baseless propaganda".
The developments came as seven foreign troops were killed in four separate attacks across the country on Thursday, according to Nato.
Three of them, from the Isaf force, were killed in a home-made bomb explosion in the west of the country.
Isaf, or the International Security Assistance Force, did not immediately provide details on the nationalities of the casualties.
Thursday's deaths brought to 584 the number of foreign soldiers killed this year, eclipsing the previous record of 521 in 2009. The AFP tally is based on a count by the independent website icasualties.org.
At least 35 foreign soldiers have died in Afghanistan this month alone.
Six US soldiers were killed in attacks on Wednesday and four Italian soldiers in a single bombing in western Afghanistan last week.
Surge in deaths
The surge in military deaths has followed the deployment of about 40,000 extra US and Nato troops under a White House strategy designed to clear major towns and cities of the Taliban and restore confidence in the government.
The increased deployment also comes as the UN Security Council extended Isaf's mandate for another 12 months.
The council expressed concern about the push by the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other groups and with "the increased high number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, in particular women and children casualties".
But the 15 nation body unanimously voted for a resolution extending the Isaf's mission until October 13, 2011.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies