KABUL: The Afghan Taliban have issued a statement acknowledging the death of Osama bin Laden after al Qaeda confirmed its leader had been killed by US forces, but said his death would only revitalise their fight against the “occupiers” in Afghanistan.
While other militant groups across the world were quick to denounce bin Laden's killing, the Taliban, who once sheltered the al Qaeda leader, were slow to comment in the hours after his death, saying they needed proof he had been killed.
Al Qaeda then issued its own statement on Friday confirming bin Laden was dead, prompting a response hours later from the Taliban.
“We received the news of the martyrdom of Sheikh Abu Abdullah Osama bin Mohammad bin Laden, may Allah have mercy upon him, in a surprise attack of the aggressor American forces,” the Taliban said in an emailed statement.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan believes that the martyrdom of Sheikh Osama ... will blow a new spirit into the jihad against the occupiers,” they said, employing the title the extremists use to describe themselves.
Washington has so far not released any photographs of bin Laden's body or the burial, raising doubts in some extremist forums about whether he was killed. The statement by al Qaeda, who have vowed more attacks on the West, will help to dispel some of those suspicions.
The Taliban gave sanctuary to bin Laden in southern Afghanistan until their government was toppled by US-backed Afghan forces in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, masterminded by the al Qaeda leader.
Bin Laden and the Taliban leadership, headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar, then fled into neighbouring Pakistan.
Analysts say Taliban leaders in Afghanistan are trying to distance themselves from al Qaeda, although links between the two extremist groups had already diminished over the years even as the insurgency gained momentum.
While in their statement the Taliban describe bin Laden's death as a “great loss”, praise for the al Qaeda leader appears to focus mainly on his time spent fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan alongside the Mujahideen during the 1980s.
If the United States and its allies think the morale of the insurgency in Afghanistan will be weakened by the death of bin Laden, “this is an indication of the naivety of the Americans”, the Taliban said in the statement.
“America should know that the jihadi movement that is present in Afghanistan started amidst the Afghan people, and it expresses the feelings and hopes of this proud people.”
Violence in Afghanistan last year reached its worst levels in almost ten years with record casualties on all sides. The United States and its allies have reluctantly thrown their support behind an Afghan government plan to negotiate with the insurgents as they look to withdraw from the war.
One of the preconditions set by Washington and Kabul before talks can begin is that Taliban-led insurgents renounce their association with al Qaeda. The Taliban have publicly rebuffed the idea of talks, demanding foreign troops leave the country.
After warnings by senior Nato commanders in Afghanistan a wave of new attacks was expected from May 1, the Taliban announced last week the beginning of their “spring offensive” targeting foreign military and Afghan government officials.
The United States and other countries are to start gradually withdrawing troops from Afghanistan this summer as they hand security responsibility to Afghans in seven areas in July. All foreign combat troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.