Kabul — The Taliban’s reclusive leader said in a Muslim holiday message Saturday that the U.S. and NATO should study Afghanistan’s long history of war, in a pointed reminder that foreign forces have had limited military success in the country.
The message from Mullah Omar comes less than a month before the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
This year has been the deadliest of the conflict for U.S. and NATO troops, and political support at home for the war is declining. Taliban attacks have spiked around Afghanistan in the last three years, and the militants now control wide swaths of territory.
On Saturday, bombs targeting military vehicles in the south where the Taliban are increasingly powerful, killed six people.
In his message for the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which ends the fasting month of Ramadan, Omar said the U.S. and NATO should study the history of Alexander the Great, whose forces were defeated by Pashtun tribesmen in the 4th century B.C.
“We would like to point out that we fought against the British invaders for 80 years from 1839 to 1919 and ultimately got independence by defeating” Britain, a statement attributed to Omar said.
“Today we have strong determination, military training and effective weapons. Still more, we have preparedness for a long war and the regional situation is in our favor. Therefore, we will continue to wage jihad until we gain independence and force the invaders to pull out,” it said. The statement’s authenticity could not be verified but it was posted on a Web site the Taliban frequently uses.
Omar is believed to be in hiding in Pakistan but hasn’t been seen in years.
President Barack Obama has increased the U.S. focus on Afghanistan after what critics say were years of neglect under the Bush administration. Obama ordered 21,000 more troops to the country this year, and by year’s end the U.S. will have a record 68,000 in the country.
Militant ambushes have become increasingly sophisticated and deadly, and U.S. troops say the Taliban is no longer the ragtag force the military first faced in late 2001. Civilian deaths and a corrupt Afghan government have turned many toward the militants, who have pushed into northern Afghanistan this year for the first time.
In the southern city of Kandahar, a bomb hidden on a bicycle exploded as an Afghan army vehicle drove by, killing five people — four civilians and one Afghan soldier and wounding 15 people, said Mohammad Pashtun, a regional police official.
The Danish military said Saturday that one of its soldiers was also killed after militants fired on troops on patrol in the southern province of Helmand. Denmark has lost 25 soldiers in Afghanistan since it joined the U.S.-led coalition in 2002. Separately, Hungarian officials said a suicide attacker drove a vehicle into a Hungarian convoy in the northern city of Pul-e-Khumri. No troops were killed.
The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is expected to ask Washington for thousands more troops in coming weeks, but public support for the war is waning, and political leaders are questioning the need for more forces.