Taliban dismisses NATO security handover to Afghans

By Laura King
Los Angeles Times

KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban scoffed Sunday at NATO plans to hand over most security responsibilities to Afghan forces in the coming three years while retaining an option to keep international troops in the country beyond that time if necessary.

In a statement issued the day after the alliance wrapped up a summit in Lisbon, the Islamist movement also denounced the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, saying it had no legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people.

“In the past nine years, the invaders could not establish any system of governance in Kabul, and they will never be able to do so in the future,” said the Taliban statement, which was e-mailed to journalists and posted on the group’s website.

Although preliminary contacts have taken place between envoys from the Taliban and Karzai’s government, the Taliban said no peace negotiations were possible until NATO troops had left.

“The real solution of the Afghan issues lies in the withdrawal of foreign forces,” the statement said, adding that Afghans “are not ready to tolerate foreign invasion and occupation of their country.”

Even as the summit was wrapping up, NATO forces pressed ahead with a campaign of targeted raids and airstrikes aimed at capturing and killing midlevel Taliban leaders.

Karzai sharply criticized night raids on Afghan homes in an interview with the Washington Post days before the summit. Some senior U.S. military officials were dismayed by both the substance and timing of the Afghan leader’s remarks.

In a speech to alliance leaders in Lisbon, Karzai was more conciliatory, saying that “the maturity of our partnership allows us to discuss difficult issues and find agreement.” But U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who commands all Western forces in Afghanistan, told summit participants that night raids and drone strikes would remain an important part of the coalition’s arsenal.

Underscoring that, the NATO force said Sunday that an airstrike had targeted a meeting of Taliban field commanders in Helmand province a day earlier, killing 10 insurgents. Separately, special forces backed by Afghan troops killed a Taliban operative in Uruzgan province who was believed responsible for masterminding the killings of seven Afghan police officers.

Heavy fighting continued over the weekend in a dangerous district of Helmand province, where U.S. Marines recently took over command from British forces.

The NATO force said its troops came under attack Saturday in Sangin district. The firefight left five insurgents dead, Western military officials said, but the troops who came under fire were forced to call in air and artillery strikes to fight off the attack.

Sangin has long been one of the war’s deadliest venues for Western troops. The district has accounted for about one-third of Britain’s military dead since the start of the Afghan conflict, and arriving Marines took heavy casualties in their first weeks.

Also Sunday, Afghan election officials struggled to clarify the results of parliamentary elections that took place more than two months ago. An oversight panel disqualified 19 candidates who had previously been declared winners in the vote, which was marked by widespread fraud. Thousands of complaints of voting irregularities are still being investigated.