Taliban vow to force NATO out by 2014

They won’t wait for handoff to Afghans

U.S. soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division control a street from the roof of the police station in West Now Ruzi village in Afghanistan’s Panjwai district.
U.S. soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division control a street from the roof of the police station in West Now Ruzi village in Afghanistan’s Panjwai district.

— The Taliban on Sunday vowed to force the U.S.-led coalition to abandon Afghanistan before a 2014 date set by the alliance for handing over security responsibility to its allied Afghan forces.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a message e-mailed to the media that NATO will be unable to establish a stable government in Afghanistan by that date. He did not mention an offer from President Hamid Karzai for peace talks and eventual reconciliation - an offer rejected by the hardline Taliban leadership.

Meanwhile, the watchdog panel charged with rooting out fraud in Afghanistan’s recent parliamentary election disqualified 19 candidates Sunday who had been announced as winners in September preliminary results.

During a weekend summit in Lisbon, Portugal, NATO leaders agreed to begin handing off security responsibility to Afghan security forces in early 2011, with a full transition targeted for the end of 2014. No timetable was set for the gradual transition of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces to Afghan control, and some foreign troops are expected to remain in combat roles after 2014, although most will be in training roles.

Mujahid said the Taliban “will not remain silent even for a single night until and unless the goal of complete freedom and the formation of an independent government is achieved. They will not wait for the time of implementation of a given decision or timetable of withdrawal.”

NATO officials have said in Kabul that the transition will not necessarily mean troops will be withdrawn, but that they could be moved to regions where they are needed.

President Barack Obama has said a decision to withdraw would be conditional on the situation on the ground. In late 2009, Obama had spoken of starting a gradual pullout in July 2011.

Obama last year ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to regain ground lost to the Taliban in the years after the U.S.-led invasion of the country one month after the al-Qaida attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The U.S. has the largest contingent - about 100,000 troops. Troops from other nations number about 40,000.

“In the past nine years, the invaders could not establish any system of governance in Kabul and they will never be able to do so in the future,” Mujahid said, adding that until 2014 “various untoward and tragic events and battles will take place as a result of this meaningless, imposed and unwinnable war.”

A coalition spokesman in Kabul said the surge in troops helped stop the Taliban’s momentum in some regions and turn the tide in others.

“With additional forces and resources, we and our Afghan partners have been able to extend our influence to most key Afghan population centers,” German Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz said. “Recent developments have shown that progress is possible. Our job now is to build on that progress to increase the momentum that has been achieved.”

There was no mention in the Taliban’s message of Karzai’s effort to begin peace talks, a step supported by NATO. He recently formed a 70-member High Peace Council to find a political solution to the insurgency. The Taliban have threatened to kill any of their followers who talk to the government.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday on the CBS Face the Nation program that Karzai is “fully in support” of U.S. and NATO strategy in Afghanistan.

The Taliban message had a stridently nationalistic tone. The Taliban have recently been portraying the U.S. and NATO as neocolonialist powers occupying Afghanistan for material gain - an effort to broaden the appeal of the extremist movement.

Mujahid for the first time mentioned that the movement had drafted a comprehensive government policy for Afghanistan should they take control.



U.S. war in Afghanistan

Meanwhile, it was not immediately clear if the disqualification of 19 parliamentary election winners would affect the power dynamic in the 249-seat lower house of the Afghan legislature. Most of the 2,500 candidates ran as independents.

The Sept. 18 vote is being watched carefully by Karzai’s western allies for signs that the Afghan president is committed to reforming his corruption ridden government.

The poll was the first since a fraud-marred presidential election last year nearly undermined the legitimacy of Karzai’s government and pushed some NATO countries to threaten to pull troops and aid.

Rocket strikes and Taliban attacks on polling centers marked this year’s voting day, and allegations of fraud have poured in since, with candidates alleging that high-level government officials tried to negotiate their supporters into office.

The candidates who were disqualified were taken from the race for a variety of reasons, including ballot-box stuffing, distributing fake voter cards and tampering with the results stored in ballot boxes, said Ahmad Zia Rafat, a commissioner who acts as spokesman for the group.

The Electoral Complaints Commission has forwarded those rulings to Afghan election officials so they can issue final poll results, Rafat said.

In fighting around Afghanistan, NATO says, international and Afghan forces killed about 20 insurgents - some of them key Taliban operatives - in a series of attacks over the weekend.

NATO said at least 10 were killed in an airstrike against a Taliban command center in the Kajaki district of Helmand, a southern province where most of the fighting is taking place.

Five others were killed in firefights with NATO forces in the district of Sangin. Most of the forces fighting in Sangin are U.S. Marines.

Another five were killed elsewhere, NATO said.

In nearby Kandahar province, meanwhile, a bomb blast killed three Afghan civilians in Shah Wali Kot district, NATO said.

Information for this article was contributed by Patrick Quinn and Heidi Vogt of The Associated Press and by Nicole Gaouette and Todd Shields of Bloomberg News.

Front Section, Pages 1 on 11/22/2010

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