TEXT-Talk to some Taliban, but from strength-adviser

Feb 19 (Reuters) - Following are excerpts from an interview with David Kilcullen, an influential military adviser to Western governments, on the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban.

An Australian counter-insurgency specialist who was a technical adviser to Washington on Iraq in 2005-08, Kilcullen was speaking on Wednesday on the sidelines of a conference hosted by the EastWest Institute security thinktank.

Q - Should U.S.-led forces negotiate with the Taliban?

A - The answer to that question depends on who you think the Taliban are. I've had tribal leaders and Afghan government officials at the province and district level tell me that 90 percent of the people we call Taliban are actually tribal fighters or Pashtun nationalists or people pursuing their own agendas. Less than 10 percent are ideologically aligned with the Quetta shura (a Taliban leadership council) or al Qaeda.

I would divide the enemy in Afghanistan into two very broad categories, people who are directly aligned with the Quetta shura or al Qaeda. Those people are probably beyond negotiating and I don't think we'd gain anything significant from trying to negotiate with them."

The others are almost certainly reconcilable under some circumstances. What I'd say with regard to that would be that its very important to negotiate from a position of strength, not a position of weakness. We want to make the population feel safe. We want to secure the environment and then negotiate to bring the people in. That's very much what we did in Iraq. We negotiated with 90 percent of the people we were fighting and and then brought them into the inclusive security structure.

I see the Taliban as a loose confederation of shifting tactical alliances of convenience, and there's a lot of opportunity for negotiation and for splitting that Taliban alliance. But we've got to do that from a position of strength so that we are not negotiating for stay of execution (for Western forces), but we're negotiating for genuine national reconciliation.

Q - Won't building up forces in Afghanistan inflame Afghan nationalism and play into the Taliban's hands?

A - I doubt that. I think the devil is in the detail. It depends on what the troops do. But provided that those troops focus primarily on protecting the population and making people feel safe in the towns, major villages and key population centres I think there's a good chance that the influx of troops will actually reduce violence. If the troops are thrown into sort of an offensive role against the Taliban main force then I would think we would see violence go up.

Q - Is it clear which role they will be used for?

A - The White House is still reviewing its strategy. I think that's going to take another month or so. But General Petraeus's remarks at the Munich Security Conference suggested very strongly that they would be used primarily for a population protrection role.

Q - Should Predator attacks be stopped?

A - I am on record as saying we should stop attacking targets other than al Qaeda targets. I think that while there are terrorists who are in Pakistani territory who can threaten the international community, the international community will probably reserve the right to strike those targets.

But the Predator strikes have an entirely negative effect on Pakistani stability, so I think we should be setting a very high bar for a rigorous standard for what is an acceptable target and we should be cutting strikes back pretty substantially. (Editing by Tim Pearce)