Taliban vows violent response to US troop increase

(AP Photo/Pervez Masih)
By  | 

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Taliban's fugitive leader said the planned increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan will give his fighters incentive to kill and maim more Americans than ever.

Mullah Omar, who is believed to be sheltered by fiercely conservative tribesman on the Afghan-Pakistan border, said battles would "flare up" everywhere.

"The current armed clashes, which now number into tens, will spiral up to hundred of armed clashes. Your current casualties of hundreds will jack up to thousand casualties of dead and injured," said the statement, which was written in broken English and posted on a Web site Sunday that has previously carried militant messages.

Violence in Afghanistan has spiked in the last two years, and 2008 has been the deadliest year for U.S. troops since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden.

There are more than 60,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, including 32,000 U.S. forces. Though U.S. troop levels are already at their highest since the start of the conflict in 2001, American commanders have requested 20,000 more troops to stem the increase in violence that has engulfed parts of the country.

Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain warned on Sunday during a visit to Afghanistan that the situation "is going to get harder before it gets easier."

The rising violence in Afghanistan appears to be coordinated closely with the spike in militant attacks in neighboring Pakistan, and officials increasingly view both countries as part of the same battlefront.

Early Monday, militants in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar attacked a truck terminal, torching more than 100 military vehicles loaded with supplies for American and coalition forces in Afghanistan, a witness and an Associated Press reporter said.

The attack was the second in as many days on the supply line in the city, showing its vulnerability to militants that control large swaths Pakistan's lawless regions close to Afghanistan.

Omar's message, released at the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the "Feast of the Sacrifice," also rejected any talks with the government of President Hamid Karzai while foreign troops remain in the country.

Karzai on Monday, during an Eid address, again asked armed militants who are fighting Afghan and NATO forces to lay down their weapons and join the government.

Karzai last month offered protection for Omar - who is wanted by the United States and is blacklisted by the United Nations - if he accepts Afghanistan's constitution and joins peace talks.

Omar dismissed that call in his latest message.

"Do not ever presume that in the presence of the occupation forces, the followers of the path of Islamic resistance will ever abandon their legitimate struggle merely on your empty and farcical pledges, material privileges and personal immunity," Omar said.

Omar also called on his fighters to administer "Islamic punishment" on anyone who kidnaps people for ransom. He said that the protection of people's lives is a major goal of jihad, or holy war. Kidnappings of Westerners have increased over the last couple of months, but not all the kidnappings are carried out by Taliban-aligned fighters.

Omar went into hiding after the U.S.-led invasion toppled his Taliban regime. Afghan officials have said he is hiding in the Pakistani city of Quetta. Pakistan says he is in Afghanistan.

In his statement, Omar also called on those Afghans who fought against Soviet troops in the 1980s to abandon their government jobs and join the ranks of the Taliban. He also said that the idea of creating tribal militias in order to fight the Taliban and other insurgent groups in the country will not work.

"No Afghan will lower himself to such an irrational and insensitive position to fight against his own brothers for the interests of the invaders and lose his life and faith for ... the pleasure of the invaders," the statement said.

U.S. commanders have said that Afghan tribes are needed as crucial battlefield allies against the Taliban and other extremists in the same way local Sunni militias rose up to oppose al-Qaida fighters in Iraq's western Anbar province.

The tactic has long been endorsed by Gen. David Petraeus - the former top U.S. military official in Iraq who now oversees the Afghan war as commander of U.S. Central Command.