(CNSNews.com) – The Taliban early Tuesday decried President Trump’s decision not to withdraw U.S. troops, and warned that the country would become a “graveyard for the American empire.”
“It seems America is not yet ready to end the longest war in its history,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement. “Instead of trying to understand ground realities, they still arrogantly believe in their force and might.”
Laying out his plan for Afghanistan on Monday night, Trump said he shared the American people’s frustration about a “war without victory,” and he called for “an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made, especially the sacrifices of lives.”
“A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al-Qaeda, would instantly fill, just as happened before September 11 ,” he said.
Trump said he would not telegraph timetables and troop numbers but that U.S. strategy would from now on be guided by conditions on the ground.
“America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out,” he said. “I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.”
Zabiullah Mujahid noted that Trump had said Americans were “weary” of the long-running war.
“The Afghan mujahid [holy warrior] nation is neither tired, nor will it ever get tired, in pursuit of winning their freedom and establishing an Islamic system,” he said.
“If America does not withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the day will not be far when Afghanistan shall transform into a graveyard for the American empire and the American leaders can understand this concept.”
The Taliban spokesman said that as long as a single American soldier remains in Afghanistan and U.S. leaders continue the war, “we shall also sustain our jihad against them with lofty spirits, absolute determination and additional firmness.”
He concluded his statement by repeating the claim that no one had been “harmed from our soil.”
In his speech, Trump recalled that “9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists.”
The Taliban, a fundamentalist militia, seized control of most of Afghanistan by the mid-1990s and allowed its al-Qaeda allies to shelter there. Osama bin Laden and his band plotted the 9/11 attack on America from Afghan soil, and the U.S. invaded the country after the Taliban refused to surrender them.
As Trump and his national security team were wrapping up the Afghanistan policy review, the Taliban in an open letter last week urged Trump not to follow the advice of “warmongering congressmen and generals” but to withdraw from Afghanistan.
“American youth are not born to be killed in the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan in order to establish the writ of thieves and corrupt officials,” it said.
‘Served and sacrificed’
Other early Afghan reaction to Trump’s speech came late Monday from Kabul’s ambassador to Washington, Hamdullah Mohib, who described it as “the first time a focus has been put on what Afghanistan must have to succeed.”
Mohib highlighted several elements of the speech, including:
--A shift away from talking about troop numbers and timetables and towards allowing conditions on the ground to determine military strategy;
--Expanded authority for the secretary of defense and military commanders to act swiftly against terrorists, instead of “micromanagement from Washington”; and
--A breaking of the silence over Pakistan’s sheltering of terrorists.
“Like America, Afghanistan wants an ‘honorable and enduring outcome’ to this fight,” Mohib said, “for all the Afghan, U.S. and NATO soldiers who have served and sacrificed to advance the cause of peace.”
Between October 2001 and the end of December 2014, 2,350 U.S. military personnel were killed in Afghanistan or in other locations where they were serving in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to Pentagon data.
Over the period since then, another 44 soldiers, airmen and sailors have been killed in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, 31 of them in hostile circumstances. Freedom’s Sentinel comprises counterterrorism operations and the U.S. contributions to the NATO-led mission to “train, advise and assist” Afghan forces.
Four hundred and fifty-five British soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2002, along with another 681 from other troop-contributing countries, according to data compiled by iCasualties.org.
According to estimates compiled by the Brookings Institution, more than 31,000 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police personnel were killed between 2007 and late 2016.
In Trump’s speech, sharp criticism of Pakistan contrasted with an invitation to its arch-rival India – “the world’s largest democracy and a key security and economic partner of the United States” – to contribute more than it already is in Afghanistan, especially in the economic sphere.
There was no early official response from Islamabad or New Delhi, but the remarks received blanket, in some cases gleeful, coverage in Indian media.