The Taliban has a new leader, and his message is clear. According to the Hindustan Times, Haibatullah Akhundzada said on Saturday in his first speech since being appointed leader after his predecessor Akhtar Mansour was killed during an American drone strike in Pakistan in May, that the U.S. needs to end its occupation of Afghanistan. “Admit the realities instead of useless use of force and muscle… and put an end to the occupation,” he said on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr, the Muslim celebration marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. “Our message to the American invaders and her allies is this: the Afghan Muslim people neither fear… your force nor your stratagem. They consider martyrdom in confrontation with you as a cherished goal of their life,” he continued. In the same speech, he appealed to neighboring countries to stand together with the Taliban and assist in the fight against the U.S., stating their presence would “harm our mutual interest” and “destabilize the whole region.”
The message came only 2 days after a convoy of buses transporting Afghan police cadets in Kabul was targeted by suicide bomb attacks for which the Taliban claimed responsibility. The attacks left more than 70 wounded and over 30 dead. U.S. officials anticipate more violence in Afghanistan as the new leader has increased clashes on the battlefield and suicide bombings against the U.S.-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s security forces and officials, who he condemns as “supporters of the occupiers.”
“You will not be able to frustrate the determination of our (the Afghans) Jihadic struggle, by your resorting to extending the time of presence of your soldiers or of increasing military rule of engagement in Afghanistan,” he said, referring to President Obama’s approval of increased U.S. involvement in assisting Afghan soldiers on the ground and airstrikes against the Taliban when needed. “You [the United States] are facing up not a group or faction but a nation. You are not going to be a winner [God willing]. So it is rational if you come with a reasonable policy for solution [of the issue] instead of the use of force,” he said.
The former deputy, now leader, has no military background but is thought to be largely behind the Taliban’s carnage in Afghanistan by using his religious influence, according to an assessment by the U.S. military. Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, U.S. military spokesman said in Kabul, “He has been really behind issuing a lot of fairly bloody fatwas (decrees) and justifications for the use of suicide bombers and targeting of civilians… again he does not have a tremendous amount of experience with it (leadership), but he clearly is still a dangerous man particularly based on a lot of the ideology he was putting out.”
The conflict in Afghanistan has been raging since 2001, when the Taliban, the then official government, was all but eliminated by massive American bombing campaigns in response to the 9/11 attacks. Since then, the Taliban has waged a guerrilla war in an attempt to return to power. It was hoped that the more than 10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan could be reduced to half of that by the end of the year, but with the Taliban gaining large areas of territory in the south of the country, this is uncertain.
According to Associated Press, the Taliban fighters are now said to be better organized and more daring than in the past, with most of their opposition coming from the ill-equipped, under-trained Afghan army.
Akhundzada claims the Taliban’s program is aimed at creating an independent and united country under their law.
[Massoud Hossaini/AP Images]