The Taliban’s new leader told Afghanistan’s government on Tuesday it must cancel a security deal with the United States and expel all foreign troops if it wants peace.
Mullah Mansour made the demand in a message marking the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Adha, his first such message since he formally took charge after the death of founder Mullah Omar was confirmed in July.
“If the Kabul administration wants to end the war and establish peace in the country, it is possible through ending the occupation and revoking all military and security treaties with the invaders,” Mansour said in the message.
Washington and Kabul signed a security deal in September last year allowing around 13,000 foreign troops, including 10,000 U.S., to stay on after NATO’s combat mission ended in December 2014.
The residual force is not engaged in day-to-day fighting with the Taliban militants but focuses instead on training, support and counter-terrorism operations.
The Taliban, fighting a bloody insurgency since a U.S.-led invasion ousted them from power in 2001, have long said the departure of “occupying” foreign troops is a necessary condition for meaningful peace talks.
“The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) believes if the country is not under occupation, the problem of the Afghans can be resolved through intra-Afghan understanding,” Mansour said in the message posted in English on the Taliban’s website.
The militants have spent recent weeks trying to patch up a rift in their movement sparked by the power struggle which followed the admission that Omar had died in 2013.
Many in the movement were unhappy the death had been kept secret for two years — during which time annual Eid statements were issued in Omar’s name.
Others said the process to choose Mansour as his successor was rushed and even biased.
Among Mansour’s opponents were members of Omar’s family, though the dead leader’s son and brother pledged allegiance to the new chief last week, according to Taliban cadres.
Mansour addressed the rifts in the Eid message by accusing the Taliban’s “enemy” of trying to sow discord in the movement.
“It (the enemy) directly and indirectly spreads baseless rumors regarding split and ramification among the united ranks of Mujahideen,” he said.
Despite its internal struggles, and the recent emergence of the rival Islamic State group in the country, the Taliban’s 14-year insurgency shows no sign of slackening. Recent overtures by the government of President Ashraf Ghani for a peace settlement have ended in failure.
Highlighting the still precarious security situation, four police officers were killed on Tuesday by a roadside bomb in the northern province of Balkh.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high in the first half of 2015, a UN report said last month, as Afghan forces struggle to contain the expanding conflict without NATO combat forces.
The report said 1,592 civilians were killed, a six percent fall over last year, while the number of injured jumped four percent to 3,329. The casualties have reached their highest level since the UN began issuing its authoritative reports in 2009.