The Taliban has rejected President Obama's call for a limited withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and has renewed its pledge to defeat foreign forces completely. The President's comments follow reports that the United States is talking with the Taliban, although hard-line elements make successful negotiations unlikely.
"We're starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al-Qaida is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11," the President said in a televised speech on June 22nd. "As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point."
"After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security."
The Taliban promptly rejected the President's calls for phased withdrawal. "The American nation must realize that their politicians and Army Generals are prolonging their game with them which was started a couple of years earlier," the group said in a statement, calling themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. "They are repeatedly giving false hopes to its nation about ending this war and claiming baselessly about victory and in this way want to extend this war as long as possible."
"[The] Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan once again wants to make it clear that the solution for the Afghan crisis lies in the full withdrawal of all foreign troops immediately and until this does not happen, our armed struggle will increase from day to day. In Afghanistan, region, American and the rest of the world, hatred will only increase against all invading troops and will end up in the disgraceful defeat of the invading troops, Allah willing."
The President also discussed America's successful campaign against al-Qaida. "Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al-Qaida's leadership," the President stated. "And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al-Qaida had ever known."
While bin Laden is not the only leader al-Qaida has ever known, his death was a powerful blow against the central branch of the group based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. After six weeks of debate on jihadi websites, the group's central branch, called Qaidat al-Jihad [leadership of the jihad], announced second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri had been elected the group's supreme leader.