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Message predicts victory for Afghan Taliban fighters

Purportedly written by leader Mullah Omar, the statement tries to appeal to the country's moderates.

August 30, 2011|Aimal Yaqubi and Mark Magnier

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN, AND NEW DELHI — A message allegedly written by the leader of the Afghan Taliban predicts imminent victory as more foreign troops die and Taliban fighters better understand NATO tactics, acquire more weaponry, shoot down more aircraft and kill more senior officials.

The lengthy statement released Monday, signed by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the movement's reclusive, one-eyed leader, follows President Obama's announcement in June that 10,000 American troops will leave this year.

The U.S. drawdown is part of an accelerated withdrawal by foreign troops ahead of a 2014 deadline for transferring security to the Afghans.

"All these give us good news of an imminent victory and a bright future," the message says.

The statement was released on the eve of one of Islam's most important holidays, Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan.

Despite an often triumphal tone, the writer appeared eager to discredit a conference on the nation's future planned for December in Bonn, Germany, that could bring together representatives from about 90 countries and international organizations, the Afghan government and members of the insurgency.

The event, like past conferences, is "superficial and hype-oriented," the statement says, calling it part of a U.S. effort to distract the public and prevent Afghans from solving their own problems.

The statement's authenticity could not be verified, but it was sent to journalists from an email address used previously to disseminate statements from Omar, who rose to the top of the Taliban more than 15 years ago. It also was posted on a website used by the Taliban.

Monday's statement, if written by Omar, would be among his most comprehensive messages to date, analysts said, with less rhetoric in order to better appeal to Afghan moderates.

"It's central aim was to characterize the struggle as a defense against outside invasion and to suggest that the Taliban could be a just and moderate political force," said Daniel Markey, a Washington-based senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. "Otherwise, the message was a rousing, nationalistic call to arms."

Of particular note was the softer line toward the Kabul government and suggestion that the Taliban doesn't seek to monopolize power, said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network.

Evidently wary of the Taliban's negative image, the author of the statement also warned insurgents to eschew bad behavior and focus on self-improvement. "Omar certainly seems to be continuing an earlier effort to soften the Taliban's image among Afghans," said Stephen Biddle, a defense policy analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations.

Among the exhortations to fighters were: Enjoy sports, read appropriate books, remain God-fearing and avoid resorting to extortion, kidnapping or imposing random bans without authorization.

Among the major points outlined: A limited withdrawal of foreign troops will solve nothing; the "blind-bombardment, night raids, brutality, torture and tyranny" of foreign troops will only spark more jihads; and Afghans won't accept permanent U.S. bases or other "colonialist games."

If outsiders leave, however, and an independent Islamic regime results, Afghan leaders will establish friendly relations with countries around the world, the statement says.

The writer also appeared to relish America's recent economic problems and notes growing antiwar feelings in NATO countries.

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

Yaqubi is a special correspondent.

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