Taliban okay with dialogue but to continue fight against 'foreign troops'

Kabul: Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah on Saturday expressed willingness to join a political dialogue with the government, but warned that the rebel group will continue its armed struggle as long as government-backed foreign troops remain in Afghanistan. "Admit the reality, instead of the useless use of force... and put an end to the occupation," Haibatullah said to the US and NATO, in his first message to the public after being named the new Taliban head in May this year. Haibatullah demanded a "reasonable policy" instead of the use of muscle power to end the nearly 15-year-long conflict in the country, in a statement released on the occasion of the upcoming Eid ul-Fitr marking the end of Ramadan, Efe news reported. "The Taliban has a policy for both the military and political fronts. Meanwhile, it believes Afghanistan is occupied by invaders. Therefore, jihad is an obligation to drive out the invaders," Haibatullah added. The rebel leader claimed he will follow "the same path" as his predecessor, Mullah Mansour, who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in May. Mansour had rejected the peace process promoted by the Ashraf Ghani-led Afghan administration through the four-nation group comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and China. "The rank and file of the Taliban is ready for the struggle as in the past," said Haibatullah, calling on Muslims worldwide to support the struggle, noting that Taliban members have "unbreakable unity". In June, the group said the US decision to expand the scope of action for American troops in the country to aid the Afghan Army will only "prolong the war". The US decided to maintain some 9,800 troops in advisory and anti-terrorism missions in Afghanistan, while NATO is set to keep nearly 12,000 stationed there until the end of 2016 - one year more than expected, owing to instability in the country.