ISLAMABAD - The leader of Afghanistan’s Taliban says the United States will be "making a mistake" by increasing its troop numbers to combat the insurgents, who have vowed to fight until the end of the "illegitimate [foreign] occupation" of the country.
Maulavi Haibatullah Akhunzadah made the remarks Friday in a message ahead of the annual Muslim festival of Eid ul Fitr that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
"If you think that you may break our determination with your military presence and surge of troops, you are making a mistake! This is not the solution of the issue to continue your occupation on the request of the inept administration of Kabul," said the fugitive insurgent chief, who also warned that the U.S. troop surge would further destabilize the country.
He went on to blame foreign forces for being "the main obstacle in the way of peace in Afghanistan." The Taliban wants NATO forces to leave the country before it engages in any peace talks.
President Donald Trump recently authorized his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, to add several thousand more U.S. troops to the 8,400 currently deployed to Afghanistan, primarily tasked to train and advise Afghan forces, which are struggling to halt Taliban battlefield advances.
The U.S. military estimates that the government in Kabul controls only 60 percent of Afghanistan.
Suicide blast kills dozens
Akhunzadah's message came a day after a Taliban suicide car bomber killed at least 34 people and wounded dozens of others in the southern province of Helmand.
The expected U.S. troop surge and the Taliban’s determination to continue its violent campaign, analysts say, are bound to escalate Afghan hostilities in the coming weeks and months.
The chief Afghan government peace negotiator Friday called on all sides to find a solution to the war through peaceful means and urged the international community to assist those efforts.
"I have said it in the past and say it again that war is not the option for any side to resolve the conflict; neither for the Afghan government nor for the armed opposition. The only way to achieve peace is to promote the peace process," said Karim Khalili while addressing a gathering in Kabul.
Khalili is the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which is tasked with engaging insurgents in a political reconciliation process.
While the Taliban has long maintained it has been waging the insurgency to free Afghanistan of U.S.-led NATO forces, Friday’s statement by its top leader indicates the Taliban expects to regain power to re-impose its brand of harsh Islamic rule in the country.
"Whenever your illegitimate occupation of Afghanistan comes to an end, the Islamic Emirate [the Taliban] has a comprehensive policy to maintain constructive and good relations with you and the world including the neighbors as per the principles," said the insurgent leader.
In an apparent reference to growing contacts that Russia, Iran and China lately have established with his group, Akhunzadah said, "The mainstream entities of the world admit its [Taliban’s] effectiveness, legitimacy and success."
Moscow, Tehran and Beijing have expressed concern that deteriorating security is creating "ungoverned areas" in Afghanistan, where loyalists of Islamic State could set up bases to threaten their regional and national security interests.