KABUL: The leader of the Taliban said the West is losing the war in Afghanistan and called on Afghans to repel the “invading infidels” as experts urged the US to scale back troops and goals.
Mullah Omar, the one-eyed Taliban leader believed to be in hiding in Pakistan, said on Wednesday that strategists behind the nine-year-old Afghan war realised they were mired in “complete failure”.
The United States and Nato have 150,000 troops in Afghanistan aiming to quell the insurgency that began soon after the Taliban regime was overthrown in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
The strategy pivots on a surge of 30,000 extra troops ordered up by US President Barack Obama in December in an attempt to bring a cohesiveness to the battle which military commanders and politicians had said was missing.
Most of the new deployments have headed south to Helmand and Kandahar, heart of the insurgency which is has intensified and spread across the country, notably during the past six months.
As the war becomes more unpopular with the public of the United States and its Nato partners, President Hamid Karzai has moved to open a dialogue with Taliban leaders, setting up a High Peace Council to spearhead the task.
The Taliban have said they will not enter into peace talks until all foreign troops have left the country, and have deftly used Obama’s announcement that US forces will begin drawing down next year in their anti-Western propaganda.
Omar’s message, emailed to international news organisations, came as the Islamic world prepared to mark Eidul Fitr, the feast ending Islam’s Ramadan fasting month.
“The victory of our Islamic nation over the invading infidels is now imminent and the driving force behind this is the belief in the help of Allah and unity among ourselves,” he said. “Put all your strength and planning behind the task of driving away the invaders and regaining independence of the country,” he told Afghan mujahedeen (fighters).
He said that “those military experts who have framed strategies of the invasion of Afghanistan or are now engaged in hammering out new strategies, admit themselves that all their strategies are nothing but a complete failure”.
His message came as almost 50 scholars and policymakers issued a report saying the United States should scale back troops and goals in Afghanistan as its military campaign had backfired and had boosted the Taliban.
The study, billed as a Plan B for Obama, said the United States did not need to defeat the Taliban, describing it as a movement with local goals unlikely to regain control of Afghanistan.
The report was offered by participants as “a much-needed rethink on the war in Afghanistan” said Representative Mike Honda, a liberal Democrat from California, whose policy advisor Michael Shank participated in the study.
It said the United States has only two vital interests in the region — preventing Afghanistan from regressing into a haven for al Qaeda extremists and ensuring the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
It called on Obama to go ahead or even speed up the July 2011 deadline to begin pulling some of the nearly 100,000 US troops out of Afghanistan, eventually ending all operations in the Pashtun-dominated south.
It follows a call by the International Institute for Strategic Studies for a change in strategy on Afghanistan, focusing on al Qaeda militants and cutting troop numbers instead of pursuing failed attempts at nation-building.
In a report this week, the London-based IISS said foreign forces should pursue talks with local Taliban insurgents, target al Qaeda extremists who pose a global threat, and foster a more federal Afghanistan that recognised the country’s ethnic divisions.
“The counter-insurgency strategy is too ambitious,” IISS director John Chipman said at the launch of the “Strategic Survey 2010,” the institute’s annual report on the global security situation.
International forces should return to the original aim of the invasion following the September 11, 2001 attacks — to dismantle Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network and deny it a safe haven in Afghanistan, it said.