Taliban condemn US exit strategy from Afghanistan

KABUL: Taliban insurgents Wednesday denounced US plans to keep troops in Afghanistan up to the end of 2016, threatening to wage war against the “occupation” until the very last foreign soldier pulls out.

But outgoing President Hamid Karzai welcomed the timetable for the US’s complete withdrawal and called on the insurgents to seize a “historic” opportunity to seek peace after more than a decade of war.

Outlining the US strategy to end America’s longest war, President Barack Obama confirmed on Tuesday that the 32,000-strong US deployment in Afghanistan would be scaled back to around 9,800 by the start of 2015.

Those forces would be halved by the end of 2015 before being reduced to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance component by the end of 2016.

But underscoring the instability still roiling Afghanistan, two Americans were slightly wounded in an attack on a US consulate vehicle in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat on Wednesday.

An unidentified gunman on a motorcycle fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the US vehicle in Herat, five days after insurgents attacked an Indian diplomatic mission in the same city near the border with Iran.

Taliban insurgents responded to Obama’s announcement by ruling out an end to fighting — a grim indicator that Afghanistan’s long, bloody war is far from over.

“Afghanistan condemns it and considers it a violation of sovereignty, religion and human rights,” said a Taliban statement.

“The American leaders should do now what they plan to do two years later. Even if one American soldier is in Afghanistan, it is not acceptable to our nation and jihad (holy war) will continue against them.”

But Karzai greeted the US withdrawal schedule by urging the insurgents to “use this historic opportunity… so that the war, which was launched (by the Taliban) on the pretext of the presence of foreign soldiers, ends”.

“Finishing the US military presence, and assumption of security affairs by the Afghan forces, has been a main demand of the president, the government and the people of Afghanistan,” he said.