KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban pose no threat to the West but will continue their fight against occupying foreign forces, they said on Wednesday, the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion that removed them from power.
U.S.-led forces with the help of Afghan groups overthrew the Taliban government during a five week battle which started on October 7, 2001, after the militants refused to hand over al Qaeda leaders wanted by Washington for the September 11 attacks on America.
“We had and have no plan of harming countries of the world, including those in Europe ... our goal is the independence of the country and the building of an Islamic state,” the Taliban said in a statement on the group’s website www.shahamat.org.
“Still, if you (NATO and U.S. troops) want to colonize the country of proud and pious Afghans under the baseless pretext of a war on terror, then you should know that our patience will only increase and that we are ready for a long war.”
U.S. President Barack Obama has said defeating the militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a top foreign policy priority and is evaluating whether to send thousands of extra troops to the country as requested by the commander of NATO and U.S. forces.
In a review of the war in Afghanistan submitted to the Pentagon last month, U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, in charge of all foreign forces, said defeating the insurgents would likely result in failure unless more troops were sent.
There are currently more than 100,000 foreign troops in the country, roughly two-thirds of who are Americans.
The Taliban statement comes at a time when Western officials warn that deserting Afghanistan could mean a return to power for the Taliban and the country could once again become a safe haven for al Qaeda militants, who could use it as a base to plan future attacks on Western countries.
The Taliban have made a comeback in recent years, spreading their attacks to previously secure areas. The growing insecurity has further added to the frustration of ordinary Afghans with the West and President Hamid Karzai’s government, in power since the Taliban’s ouster.
Since 2001, each year, several thousand Afghans, many of them civilians, have been killed in Afghanistan, with Taliban and al Qaeda leaders still at large despite the rising number of foreign troops.
In the statement, the Taliban said the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan for its refusal to hand over al Qaeda leaders, was hasty and unjustified. Washington had not given leaders of the movement any proof to show the involvement of al Qaeda in the September 11 attacks, it said.
Washington was using the so-called war on terror in Afghanistan and in Iraq as part of its expansionist goals in the Middle East, central and southeast Asia, it said.
It recalled the defeat of British forces in the 19th century and the fate of the former Soviet Union in the 1980s in Afghanistan as a lesson to those nations who have troops in the country.
Qari Mohammad Yousuf, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the withdrawal of foreign troops was the only solution to a conflict that has grown in intensity and has pushed some European nations to refuse to send their soldiers into battle zones or to speak about a timetable to withdraw from the country.
Some 1,500 foreign troops have also died in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s ouster causing many nations to question the presence of its soldiers in the country and whether stability can ever be achieved eight years after the overthrow of the militants.
Editing by Sugita Katyal