A top spokesman for the Afghan Taliban rejected the US’ call for the group to “put down their arms and begin peace talks,” a request that was made just one day after a Taliban suicide assault team killed 21 people, including two Americans, at a restaurant in Kabul.
“We strongly reject the American demand,” Zabihullah Mujahid, an official Taliban spokesman, said in an email sent to The Long War Journal. Mujahid’s statement was also published on the Taliban’s website, Voice of Jihad.
“America wants to turn a blind eye from a manifest reality and conveniently skip over the primary reason for the problems of Afghanistan,” he continued. Mujahid said that “the American invasion and its resultant barbarity” was the Taliban’s reason for continuing the fight.
“If America truly wants peace and stability for Afghanistan then it should immediately withdraw all its forces from our land and leave the Afghans to their own wills and aspirations,” he continued. “If America is adamant on war and occupation then it should wait for more deadly attacks.”
Mujahid was responding to an official statement by the White House that condemned the Jan. 17 suicide assault on a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul that killed 21 people, including the IMF’s representative to Afghanistan, three UN workers, two Americans, two Brits, two Canadians, and a Danish citizen.
The Taliban claimed the Kabul attack was retaliation for the Jan. 15 raid in Parwan province that targeted a senior Taliban commander who is linked to the Haqqani Network and supports suicide bombings and attacks in the capital. [See LWJ report, Afghan, US forces target Haqqani-linked Taliban leader in Parwan; and Threat Matrix report, Taliban say Kabul suicide assault was response to ISAF raid in Parwan.]
In the White House statement, the US reiterated that it wants to negotiate with the Taliban.
“We call again on the Taliban to put down their arms and begin peace talks, which is the surest way to end the conflict in a peaceful manner,” the White House statement said.
The US government has unsuccessfully pursued peace talks with the Taliban for the past five years as the Obama administration seeks to withdraw the bulk of the forces from the country by the end of 2014. Vice President Joe Biden is pushing for a residual force of less than 3,000 troops to remain in country, while the ‘zero option,’ or no US forces in country, is a distinct possibility. The administration believes that a peace deal with the Taliban will end the fighting and prevent al Qaeda from operating in the country.
Previously, the US has demanded that the Taliban denounce al Qaeda and join the Afghan political process. The demand that the Taliban denounce al Qaeda was dropped last year as the Taliban were permitted to open an office in Qatar. Western officials wanted the Taliban to use the office to conduct peace talks, but the Taliban insisted it was to be used to raise the profile of the group in the international community and serve as a “political office.” Additionally, the Taliban wanted to use the office in Qatar to secure the release of five al Qaeda-linked commanders who are being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay. [See LWJ report, Taliban want release of 5 al Qaeda-linked commanders in exchange for captured US soldier; and Threat Matrix report, Taliban insist on using ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,’ flying flag at Qatar ‘political office.’]
The Taliban signaled in early 2012, during another US push for peace talks, that they had no intentions of disowning al Qaeda, and refused to denounce international terrorism. A Taliban spokesman even said that al Qaeda is officially operating under the banner of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
“They [al Qaeda] are among the first groups and banners that pledged allegiance to the Emir of the Believers [Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban], and they operate in Afghanistan under the flag of the Islamic Emirate,” a spokesman to jihadist forums known as Abdullah al Wazir said in February 2012.
“They are an example of discipline and accuracy in the execution of missions and operations entrusted to them by the Military Command of the Islamic Emirate,” Wazir continued, calling al Qaeda “lions in war.” [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda ‘operates in Afghanistan under the flag of the Islamic Emirate': Taliban spokesman; and Threat Matrix report, Taliban expand list of demands, refuse to denounce ‘international terrorism.’]