The top commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan on Tuesday recommended a plan to stem growing violence by empowering local Afghan leaders, including former Taliban members.

"That is the local leadership that we have to work with for a successful outcome in Afghanistan," U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan said while advocating support for district governing councils that are willing to accept the Afghan constitution and reject the Taliban.

"Reconciliation at the local level, of local fighters, of local influencers, potentially is a very very powerful metric," he said in remarks before the Washington-based Atlantic Council of the United States.

"This is a country that historically has had very little central government. But it''s a country with a history of local autonomy and local tribal authority systems."

McKiernan laid out details of the strategy for engaging what he called "small-t" Taliban members, saying he is already talking to Afghan ministers about a prototype plan that would assemble district leaders into a shura, or tribal council, backed by western development aid.

Reconciliation with some Taliban members has already been embraced by U.S. officials as a possible antidote to surging violence that has reached its highest level since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled Afghanistan''s former Taliban regime.

U.S. military officials have conceded that the United States is not winning in Afghanistan and that a 70,000-strong western military force cannot succeed without political, diplomatic and development assistance for the local populace.