Afghanistan to fall to Taliban post-NATO withdrawal: US report

Published Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Taliban in Afghanistan on Wednesday refused to comment on a leaked US military report suggesting they are likely to retake the country when foreign troops, but confirmed they will not agree to a US demand for a ceasefire as a condition for peace talks.

The leaked report prepared by the US military said the Taliban, backed by Pakistan, are likely to reclaim power in Afghanistan after NATO-led forces withdraw in 2014.

While the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the report was not meant as a strategic assessment, it could be interpreted as a damning evaluation of the war against the Taliban.

"Our struggle and jihad will continue until we have installed a complete Islamic government in Afghanistan, regardless of the year 2014 or 2015 when the foreign troops will leave Afghanistan," said Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman.

Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), confirmed the document's existence but denied it was a strategic study of operations.

"The classified document in question is a compilation of Taliban detainee opinions," he said. "It's not an analysis, nor is it meant to be considered an analysis."

The report, which was published in Britain's The Times newspaper, could re-embolden the Taliban and undermine US and Afghan efforts to open peace talks with the fighters.

The document's findings were based on interrogations of more than 4,000 Taliban and Al-Qaeda detainees, The Times said, adding that it identified few individual insurgents.

The document claimed that Pakistan's powerful security agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was assisting the Taliban in directing attacks against foreign forces.

The allegations drew a strong response from Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit. "This is frivolous, to put it mildly," he said. "We are committed to non-interference in Afghanistan."

The Times said the ‘highly classified’ report was put together by the US military at Bagram air base in Afghanistan for top NATO officers last month.

The accusations will likely further strain ties between Western powers and Islamabad, which has long denied backing militant groups seeking to topple the US-backed government in Kabul.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was visiting Kabul on Wednesday on a mission to repair strained diplomatic ties with President Karzai and to discuss possible peace talks with the Taliban.

Pakistan is currently reviewing ties with the US that have suffered a series of setbacks since the raid that killed Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil in May last year.

A cross-border NATO air strike last November killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, prompting Islamabad to suspend supply routes to NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is seen as critical to US efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, but Islamabad has resisted US pressure to go after insurgent groups like the Taliban and the Haqqani network.

Pakistan says Washington should attempt to bring all militant groups into the peace process and fears a 2014 combat troop exit could be hasty, plunging the region into the kind of chaos seen after the Soviet exit in 1989.

"They [the Taliban] don't need any backing. Everybody knows that after 10 years, they [NATO] have not been able to control a single province in Afghanistan because of the wrong policies they have been following," said Pakistani Senator Tariq Azim, a member of the Senate's Defence Committee.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted by US-backed Afghan forces in 2001 despite the presence of about 100,000 foreign troops, according to the United Nations.

The Taliban announced this month they would open a political office in the Qatari capital Doha to support possible peace talks with the US.

But there are also plans to hold separate talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Saudi Arabia because Afghan President Hamid Karzai fears he could be sidelined in the US talks.

The report could boost the Taliban's confidence and make its leaders less willing to make concessions on key US demands for a ceasefire.

The Times said the document suggested the Taliban were gaining in popularity partly because the austere Islamist movement was becoming more tolerant.

"It remains to be seen whether a revitalized, more progressive Taliban will endure if they continue to gain power and popularity," it quoted the report as saying. "Regardless, at least within the Taliban, the refurbished image is already having a positive effect on morale."

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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