KABUL (Reuters) – Fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar on Monday vowed more attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai suggested he “get in touch” if he wanted peace.
In a message to mark the three-day Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which starts in Afghanistan on Tuesday, Omar reiterated his call for jihad, or holy war, against the United States.
“The Taliban attacks in Afghanistan will further intensify in this New Year, which will force Americans to leave Afghanistan very soon,” he said in a message carried by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency.
AIP said the message had been read over the telephone by a Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Hanif.
Omar, whose whereabouts have been unknown since U.S.-led forces toppled his government in late 2001, said jihad was a religious obligation for Muslims as the United States was “the biggest enemy of Islam.”
“Muslims should stand prepared for the sacrifice of jihad on the great day of Eid al-Adha because armed jihad is the only way to safeguard the Islamic world.”
Omar’s Taliban was driven from power after refusing to surrender al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Karzai told the Associated Press news agency on Sunday he was willing to listen to what Omar had to say, but said the Taliban leader would first have to account for his actions.
Omar’s message made no mention of Karzai.
But Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, a deputy of Omar and defense minister in the Taliban’s deposed regime, rejected the offer, calling Karzai an “American puppet” who should be tried in an Islamic court.
“Hamid Karzai, the American agent, has turned Afghanistan into an American base and has killed thousands of Afghans,” he told Reuters by satellite phone from a secret location.
An adviser to Karzai said the government’s attitude toward Omar remained uncompromising.
“Our policy regarding talks with Taliban is clear. Omar is a criminal and he should be brought to justice,” he told Reuters.
The United States has posted a $10 million reward for the Taliban leader, but Omar also has plenty of enemies among Afghans who fought against and endured five years of harsh Taliban rule.
Despite the presence of almost 30,000 foreign troops, the country remains dogged by violence.
Thousands have been killed since 2001, more than 1,200 last year alone, including hundreds of militants and more than 50 U.S. soldiers.
Akhund said it would be a betrayal of Islam to stop fighting “America and the infidel forces.” “Mullah Omar and his Taliban are not ready for this sin,” he said, adding that suicide attacks would continue.
Karzai says hundreds of insurgents have already given up and a handful of former Taliban won seats in September elections.
He held out an olive branch to Taliban rank and file two years ago, and the head of a national reconciliation commission said in November talks were needed to end the violence.
Omar and bin Laden are often said to be hiding on the rugged Afghan-Pakistani border, protected by friendly Pashtun tribes.