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Taliban Says No Peace Talks With Leader

A former Taliban fighter (right) shakes hands with a policemen in Herat as he and other militants attend a ceremony to surrender under a U.S.-backed Afghan government amnesty scheme.
KABUL (Reuters) -- The Taliban has rejected reports its leader Mullah Omar was willing to hold peace talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan, saying it would continue attacks until all foreign forces withdrew from the country.

"If you wait for 3,000 years, our position is that the Taliban will not enter into any kind of talks in the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan," Taliban spokesman Qari Yusof Ahmadi told the Pakistan-based AIP news agency.

More than seven years after U.S.-led and Afghan forces removed the Taliban from power, violence in Afghanistan is at its highest levels with Taliban-led insurgents launching increased attacks on foreign and Afghan forces.

Ahmadi's comments came a day after Britain's "Sunday Times" newspaper reported Omar, the leader of the hardline Islamists, had given his approval for and had sent representatives to attend Saudi-sponsored peace talks.

Omar had given a "green light" for talks to go ahead, the "Times" quoted a former friend of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Anas, as saying. But Taliban spokesman Ahmadi rejected the claims.

"These reports are baseless. Our position remains unchanged. We will conduct jihad and continue resistance as long as foreign forces are present in Afghanistan," Ahmadi told AIP.

There are some 70,000 foreign troops, including 38,000 U.S. soldiers, stationed in Afghanistan. The United States is due to send 17,000 more troops to tackle a strengthening insurgency mainly in the south and east of the country.

Since the weekend, nine foreign soldiers have been killed in a series of Taliban raids, the deadliest week for foreign forces in recent months.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said this month the West was not winning the war, while some Western politicians and military officers agree the war cannot be won by military means alone.

President Barack Obama has said he is open to the idea of reaching out to more moderate elements of the Taliban, after what he called the success of working with Islamist fundamentalists in Iraq, who had been alienated by the tactics of Al-Qaeda.

But the International Crisis Group in a report last week warned the new Obama administration any talks with the militants should be approached with "great caution," saying previous peace agreements in both Afghanistan and Pakistan had collapsed.