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Taliban Calls Guantanamo Closure 'Positive Step'

The U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay

The U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay

LONDON (Reuters) -- The Taliban have told U.S. President Barack Obama that his plan to close Guantanamo Bay prison camp was a "positive step" but peace was only possible if he withdraws U.S. forces from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Taliban, toppled in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, also told the new president that sending more troops to Afghanistan "and the use of force against the independent peoples of the world, has lost its effectiveness."

A day after being sworn in last week, Obama ordered the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where prisoners have been detained for years without charge, some subjected to interrogation that human rights groups say amounted to torture.

Obama has ordered a full review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, where he has pledged to boost troop levels and take the initiative against the growing Taliban insurgency.

Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the remote, mountainous border region of Pakistan near Afghanistan.

"Obama's move to close Guantanamo detention center is a positive step for peace and stability in the region and the world...," the Taliban said in a message posted on Islamist websites, monitored by the U.S.-based terrorism monitor, the SITE Intelligence Group.

The message said Obama had to reverse the policies of former President George W. Bush in Afghanistan and the Islamic world.

"If Obama is right and, according to his words, wants to open a new page based on peaceful interaction built on mutual respect with the Islamic world, the first thing he has to do is to stop and annul all these procedures, which were created according to Bush's criminal policy," it said.

"He must completely withdraw all his forces from the two occupied Islamic countries [Afghanistan and Iraq], and to stop defending Israel against Islamic interests in the Middle East and the entire world," the Taliban message said.

Obama has named former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as the first U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, a region Obama called "the central front" in the battle against terrorism.