| ||Taliban: NATO nations should leave war like France|
The Associated Press
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KABUL - The Taliban on Sunday urged all NATO nations in Afghanistan to follow France's lead and pull their forces from the war.
The call came in a three-page statement released just as heads of state opened the NATO summit in Chicago to talk about the future of Afghanistan.
The Taliban also on Sunday took responsibility for a suicide bombing in southern Afghanistan.
The newly elected president of France has said he will withdraw all French combat troops from Afghanistan by year's end — a full two years before the timeline agreed to by nations in U.S.-led NATO coalition.
"The declaration of the new president of France, Francois Hollande, that all its troops will be removed from Afghanistan at the end of this year is a decision based on realities and a reflection of the opinion of its nation," the Taliban said in an English version of the statement posted on its Web site.
The Taliban often issues long statements addressed to world opinion during international conferences dealing with Afghanistan.
"We call upon all the other NATO member countries to avoid working for the political interests of American officials and answer the call of your own people by immediately removing all your troops from Afghanistan," the insurgent group said.
It cited a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that found that 69 percent of Americans thought the U.S. should not be at war in Afghanistan.
"So the NATO member countries who claim to be the elected representatives of its people and consider their government the people's government — by the people, for the people — how will they answer the call of their people in this summit?" the Taliban asked.
The Taliban also reiterated U.S. estimates that few al-Qaida fighters remain in Afghanistan.
Routing al-Qaida from Afghanistan has been a key basis for U.S. involvement in the decade-long war.
"The American intelligence networks, including the CIA, state that members of al-Qaida have all left Afghanistan and that there are not more than 50 left, therefore the military presence of America is not for its own security, but a long-term strategy for turning our country and the region into its colony." American officials have given an estimate of less than 100 al-Qaida members.
The United States has denied being an occupying force and has said that it has no interest in establishing long-term military bases in Afghanistan. However, a U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership document signed this month gives the U.S. the option of keeping forces in Afghanistan after nearly all international combat troops withdraw by 2014. Any such force would serve two specific purposes: training of Afghan forces and operations against al-Qaida.
Officials have previously said as many as 20,000 U.S. special operations forces and other troops could remain after the combat mission ends, but that still must still be negotiated.
"They are conjuring artificial excuses to prolong the occupation of Afghanistan, are wavering in their stance and do not seem to have a clear strategy for a political solution," the Taliban said. "The Islamic Emirate (which is what the Taliban call themselves) considers the claims of the invaders of finding a political solution as meaningless until they come out of their fluctuating unstable state."
Violence in Afghanistan continued on Sunday across the country.
NATO reported two of its service members killed in an insurgent attack, while Afghan officials reported that a suicide bomber struck a police checkpoint in Uruzgan province in the country's south.
NATO did not provide any further details on the attack that killed the service members, its location or their nationalities. It was not clear if the two attacks were related.
The deaths bring to 24 the number of foreign troops killed this month in Afghanistan and 156 this year.
Fareeb Ayal, a spokesman for the police chief of Uruzgan province, said a suicide bomber blew himself up at a police checkpoint near a marketplace in Tarin Kot, the provincial capital. Ayal said a NATO convoy was at the checkpoint at the time of the explosion. He said six children were wounded, two of them critically. He said there were some NATO casualties too, but he didn't have details.
Taliban spokesman Qari Youssef Ahmadi said the Taliban were behind the attack.
In other violence, police in western Farah province said that 20 Taliban militants were killed and another 15 were wounded during an operation that began Friday.
Mohammad Ghaws Milyar, the deputy police chief of Farah, said the Taliban were killed during an ongoing operation by the Afghan security forces in the Bala Buluk district. He added that the operation will continue until the end of the week and its goal was to clear the area of Taliban insurgents.
Milyar said two Afghan Army soldiers and a member of the Afghan intelligence services were also killed during a gun battle with insurgents in Bala Buluk on the first day of the operation.
Five insurgents were also killed in a gun battle on Sunday with Afghan police forces in eastern Nuristan province, the provincial governor's office said. The battle started after Taliban attacked a police checkpoint in Nuristan's Kamdesh district. A police office was killed and another was wounded in the attack, a statement said.
Also, a roadside bomb in the northern province of Kunduz late Saturday killed a young student and two police officers, said Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesman for the provincial police chief.