I am not sure the news Sunday about U.S. negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan came as a surprise to many.

But it does seem to imply a heightened sense of urgency in dealing with a war heading toward a decade in length.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted Sunday that preliminary talks with the Taliban in an effort to end the war were underway. This preceded an announcement that President Barack Obama plans to give a speech Wednesday in which he will outline troop withdrawal strategies.

Afghan officials have been negotiating with the Taliban for a while now, and for the U.S. to sit on the sideline and let the at best questionable Harmid Karzi Administration take the lead makes no sense. What seems a bit odd about the negotiations is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not directly involved but “other countries” are, Gates said. And Gates said there are no assurances the people we’re negotiating with — the talks started a few weeks ago — are even legitimate representatives of the Taliban.

Meanwhile, the U.S. relationship with Karzi, always shaky, got shakier in the past two weeks as he ups his criticism of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. The Karzi Administration comes rife with corruption and with that the potential for a free and democratic Afghanistan — always a long shot — worsens.

I suspect most U.S. officials and U.S. military leaders would like to see Karzi gone as much as the Taliban.

Gates was quick to point out in his CNN interview that negotiations must go hand-in-hand with increased military pressure on the Taliban. So, it will be interesting to see how that plays with Obama’s plans for troop withdrawals.

“We have said all along that a political outcome is the way most of the wars end,” Gates told CNN. “The question is when and if they are ready to talk seriously.”

Gates also acknowledged the pressure building in a country tired of war and fighting severe economic challenges.

Gates is weary, too.

He is nearing the end of and eight-year tenure under multiple presidents, and that’s a lot of weight for anyone to bear.

And now he must keep an eye on Libya as well.

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