White House touts Taliban concession

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Administration officials touted a statement on Tuesday from the Taliban movement as evidence the Afghan-based Islamist group is gradually cutting their alliance with al-Qaida.

“This is clearly the first step, which, if it is successful, will be the first stop on a very long road,” said an administration official.

However, he said, “there is no guarantee this will happen quickly, if at all.”

The move is part of the administration’s efforts to withdraw American forces from the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

The White House’s goal is to “responsibly end the Afghan war,” a White House official said Tuesday. But that can’t be done if the Taliban thinks it can win by continuing its attacks on U.S. and Afghan government soldiers and bases.

The Taliban is an Islamic army recruited from the ethnic Pushtun tribes that live in the mountains along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly said that U.S. troops are withdrawing from the country, and will end their combat role in December 2014.

In Tuesday’s statement, the Taliban’s leadership is expected to say that they oppose the use of Afghan soil to threaten other countries, and that they will support an Afghan peace process, said a White House official.

That’s still a long way from the White House’s strategic goals, which include a statement by the Taliban breaking its alliance with al-Qaida. The U.S. government also wants the Taliban to promise to end its military campaign against the Afghan government, and also to promise to comply with the Afghan constitution.

The constitution is based on Islamic law, which sets Koranic strictures above constitutional or legislative texts.

The new Taliban statement will clear the way for the Taliban to open an office in Doha, the capital city of Qatar.

In turn, the office can be used as a “potential vehicle for Afghan reconciliation” via negotiations between the Taliban ruling group and Afghanistan’s fractious government, which is led by President Hamid Karzai.

U.S. troops landed in Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy the Taliban government, after Al Qaeda had used its bases in Afghanistan to launch the 9/11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. Those attacks killed nearly 3,000 Americans. U.S. forces quickly drove the Taliban and al-Qaida out off the country, and into neighboring Pakistan.

The Taliban and al-Qaida are allied, in part, because both share very purist and aggressive Islamic beliefs.

But the Taliban has refused to break its alliance with al-Qaida, or to quit attacking the Afghan government, which it declares to be illegitimate.

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