The Taliban has greeted the formal ending of the 13-year war in Afghanistan with a statement of its intention to continue on a combat footing, despite assertions from recently sworn in President Ashraf Ghani that he is open to peace talks.
Following a low-key ceremony at the headquarters of ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) on December 28, 2014, marking the formal end to that group's combat mission in Afghanistan, the Taliban issued a robust response, as reported by the Independent Online.
"We consider this step a clear indication of their defeat and disappointment. America, its invading allies…. along with all international arrogant organisations have been handed a clear-cut defeat in this lop-sided war.
"[The fight will continue] for the establishment of a pure Islamic system by expelling the remaining invading forces unconditionally. [The Taliban will] continue its Jihad and struggle so long as a single foreigner remains in Afghanistan in military uniform."
From January 1, 2015, an estimated 13,500 international troops will begin Mission Resolute Support – as explained by ISAF Commander General John Campbell, and reported by Bloomberg.
"We are not walking away. Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnership. The road before us remains challenging, but we will triumph."
At the peak of the conflict, ISAF forces – comprised of personnel from 50 different countries – numbered some 140,000 troops. In the 13 years since combat operations began, over 3,500 international troops have been killed. There remains some trepidation among Afghan citizens regarding the withdrawal of allied troops, as shopkeeper Gul Mohammad highlighted to the Advocate.
"At least in the past 13 years we have seen improvements in our way of life – freedom of speech, democracy, the people generally better off financially. [But troops are still needed] at least until our own forces are strong enough, while our economy strengthens, while our leaders try to form a government."
Three months into his presidency, Ashraf Ghani has yet to appoint a cabinet and assemble a fully functioning government. As a result of the support and training provided by ISAF, Afghanistan now has its own security force comprising 350,000 personnel, however, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg believes the time for handover is right.
"We have made our own nations safer by denying safe haven to terrorists. We have made Afghanistan stronger by building up from scratch strong security forces. Together, we have created the conditions for a better future for millions of Afghan men, women and children."
While these achievements were being noted, however, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid reiterated the commitment of that organization.
"Since the invasion in 2001 until now, these events have been aimed at changing public opinion – but we will fight until there is not one foreign soldier on Afghan soil, and we have established an Islamic state."
U.S forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in an attempt to drive out the Taliban regime, in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks that occurred that year. At that time, the Taliban had ruled Afghanistan since 1996. It has been a ferocious campaign, with the United Nations estimating that 10,000 civilians have been killed or injured in 2014 alone, as a direct consequence of violence related to the conflict – the majority of which is acknowledged as having been perpetrated by the Taliban. Afghanistan's own security forces have also seen an estimated 5,000 of its personnel killed this year.
[Image via foxnews.com]