Omar vows safe retreat for forces in Afghanistan

LEAVE OR LOSE: If US and NATO forces persisted with their invasion, they would be defeated like the Russians before them, the Taliban leader said


Wed, Oct 01, 2008 - Page 5

Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, offered international forces a safe retreat from Afghanistan if they agree to withdraw from the war-torn country.

If US and NATO troops battling the militia failed to take up the offer, they would suffer a defeat like Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, he said in a statement message posted on the Internet yesterday.

“I say to the invaders: If you leave our country, we will provide you the safe context to do so,” Omar, who has a US$25 million US bounty on his head, said in the statement marking the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. “If you insist on your invasion, you will be defeated like the Russians before you.”

The Red Army pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989 after 10 years of fighting that cost the lives of at least 10,000 Soviet troops. A civil war followed after which Omar’s Taliban movement took power in 1996.

“There are thousands of security forces ... and it is clear that they are criminal, thieves, and the people can not trust the security forces at all,” Omar said. “Foreign forces are the thieves of our culture, faith, as well as natural resources, in the same way the army and police steal the money, dignity and the honor of the people.”

Omar also called on militants not to harm civilians during their operations.

There was no immediate reaction from the US-led coalition, which invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US, or the separate NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Omar, who has been in hiding since the fall of the Taliban government in late 2001, said in the message that he offered his support to all those fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan.

“The Americans, with their advanced technology, could not have predicted their defeat, but now, with God’s help, every day they welcome their soldiers’ dead bodies and are facing severe losses of lives and finance,” he said. “Several years ago, no one thought that Americans and their friends would face such hard resistance, that today the [Afghan] president and his ministers would beg for money, weapons and soldiers while no one gives a positive answer.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said yesterday he has asked the king of Saudi Arabia to help facilitate peace talks with the Taliban.

Karzai said there has not yet been any negotiations, only requests for help. But he said that Afghan officials have traveled to both Saudi Arabia and to Pakistan in hopes of ending the conflict.

“For the last two years, I’ve sent letters to the king of Saudi Arabia, and I’ve sent messages, and I requested from him as the leader of the Islamic world, for the security and prosperity of Afghanistan and for reconciliation in Afghanistan ... he should help us,” Karzai said.

Speaking on the grounds of the presidential palace, where he gave his traditional Eid-al Fitr message to Afghans, Karzai said his government was trying to encourage militants to lay down arms.

Karzai said he would personally protect Taliban and other militant leaders from US and NATO troops if they come back to Afghanistan for talks.

Omar’s message did not include any indication of willingness to talk to Karzai’s government.