Afghan Taliban leader issues bellicose Eid message

AFP , Friday 17 Aug 2012

The Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar issues an Eid message, claiming victories on the battlefield against NATO and emphasizing that talks with Washington does 'not mean abandoning goals'

Taliban leader Mullah Omar. (Photo: Reuters)

The Taliban's reclusive leader Mullah Omar has issued a bellicose Eid message claiming victories on the battlefield against NATO but also defending initial contacts, now suspended, with the US.

In an apparent move to allay fears among some Taliban factions, Omar said in a seven-page statement posted on the group's website that initial talks with the United States "had not meant submission or abandoning our goals".

Instead they had been aimed at initiating an exchange of prisoners, opening a political office and to "reach our goals", he said, noting that the Taliban had suspended the talks earlier this year.

The rare statement by the Islamic militants' one-eyed leader, said by the Afghan government to be based in neighbouring Pakistan, came on the eve of Eid-al-Fitr celebrations marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Omar said the "so-called transition", under which NATO is handing increasing responsibility for the war to Afghan security forces ahead of the exit of some 130,000 foreign troops by the end of 2014, was a sign of defeat.

And he warned the war would continue after their departure.

"The Afghan people will wage jihad (holy war) against the foreign invasion until complete independence of the country, though the invasion may ensconce itself in the garb of peace-keeping forces or strategic cooperation," he said.

The United States has signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with the government of President Hamid Karzai pledging support after the departure of combat troops and is expected to leave a residual force behind.

The Taliban has always refused to negotiate directly with Karzai's government, labelling it a puppet of Washington, and Omar dismissed it in his statement as "corrupt, collapsing and ill".

But, he said in his message, which mixed belligerence with promises of future "unity and harmony", the Taliban "will make efforts to reach an understanding with the Afghan factions in due time following (the) pull-out of the invaders".

Attempting to counter its reputation for the brutal suppression of women's rights, Omar said a new Taliban government would "give all legitimate rights to women in the light of the Islamic principles".

The Taliban, led by Omar, were in power from 1996 until being ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001 for harbouring Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

US ambassador James Cunningham said earlier this week that there were signs that the Taliban were considering peace talks with the Afghan government.

"There are contacts taking place, mostly at this point among Afghans -- Taliban and Afghans," he told a news conference.

"We do see signs that... there is some rethinking going on among the Taliban about the future choices that they face."

Cunningham attributed this to the "clarity of the message" the United States and the West have sent out that they will not abandon Afghanistan when NATO's troops leave.

On the war itself, Omar claimed however that the "unique distinction" of this year's summer offensive by the Taliban was that it had reached all areas of the country and forced NATO and Afghan government into defensive positions.

NATO has acknowledged a spike in attacks this summer over the same period last year.

Omar also claimed that a spate of green-on-blue attacks, in which Afghan forces turn their weapons against NATO personnel, was the result of Taliban infiltrating local security units.

NATO says most of the incidents, in which 39 foreign soldiers have been killed this year, are motivated by cultural differences between troops and plays down the role of Taliban infiltration.

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