'Taliban fighters welcome Qatar office'
Jun 21, 2013
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan // Taliban fighters on Friday hailed the rebels' new office in Qatar as evidence of their success on the front lines but vowed to battle on until all US forces leave Afghanistan.
The opening of the office in Qatar was seen as a first step towards a peace deal as the US-led NATO combat mission ends next year, but a furious Kabul accused the rebels of posing as a government-in-exile.
Talk of a meeting between US and Taliban officials has been put on hold, and the US has stressed the office must not be treated as an embassy for the hardliners who were ousted from power in 2001.
"We welcome the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar, and we are happy about it," Mullah Ehsanullah, a local Taliban fighter in the Zherai district of southern province Kandahar, told AFP by telephone.
"With the establishment of this office, we want to hold talks with the international community like an independent and sovereign state.
"We are reaching our goals in defeating the US, now we want to free our country from occupation. We want to build our country on our own."
When the Qatar office opened on Tuesday, it used the title of the rebels' 1996-2001 government, the "Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan" and flew the white Taliban flag -- a provocative symbol of oppression to many Afghans.
Afghanistan's envoy to the United Nations, Zahir Tanin, on Thursday described the opening as "theatrical" which he said contravened an agreement on how the occasion would be managed.
A well-informed member of the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan told AFP that peace moves would not impact the fighters' guerrilla campaign of roadside bombs, suicide attacks and ambushes.
"There is not likely to be any immediate change on the ground, with fighting ongoing despite the starting of talks," he said, warning that any Qatar deal would be hard to implement as the insurgents were decentralised.
"Taliban representatives in Doha are not very powerful and influential within the insurgency," he said, speaking from Pakistan.
"So they might not be powerful enough to impose the outcome of negotiations on the main shura (council) which has the power."
In Pakistan's tribal district of North Waziristan -- the country's most notorious bastion of militants -- a regular visitor told AFP that insurgents believe peace talks are possible only if all US troops leave Afghanistan and all Taliban prisoners are freed.
"It (the peace process) is new but I'm not very hopeful," said the visitor to Miranshah, the main town in the district.
"The Taliban know that the Afghan government may allow the US to keep nine military bases in the future, which means the US will not withdraw.
"In the mind of many jihadis, as long as the US is in Afghanistan one way or the other, they will fight them."
The Taliban on Wednesday claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on the largest US-led military base in Afghanistan that killed four Americans.
'U.S. military base in Qatar for operations in Afghanistan'
Following joint military operations during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Qatar and the United States concluded a Defense Cooperation Agreement that has been subsequently expanded. In April 2003, the U.S. Combat Air Operations Center for the Middle East moved from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saoudi Arabia to Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base south of Doha, the Qatari capital.
Al Udeid Air Base (Arabic: قاعدة العديد الجوية) is also known as Abu Nakhlah Airport (Arabic:مطار أبو نخلة). It houses foreign coalition personnel and assets. It is host to a forward headquarters of United States Central Command, headquarters of United States Air Forces Central, No. 83 Expeditionary Air Group RAF, and the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing of the USAF. In 1999, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad, reportedly told US officials that he would like to see as many as 10,000 US servicemen permanently stationed at Al Udeid.
Al Udeid and other facilities in Qatar serve as logistics, command, and basing hubs for the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of operations, including Iraq and Afghanistan.