- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | The Taliban’s reclusive leader ruled out talks with President Hamid Karzai and called on Afghans on Wednesday to break off relations with his “stooge” administration.

Mullah Mohammed Omar’s message, issued ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday this weekend, comes less than a week before President Obama is expected to announce an increase of thousands of troops for Afghanistan. The White House has said Mr. Obama is focusing on how the United States eventually will withdraw from Afghanistan, even as he plans to send more forces.

In a statement, Mullah Omar insisted that foreign troops were losing the war.

His message came a week after Mr. Karzai reached out to the Taliban during his inauguration speech, saying it was important to include in the government former Taliban militants who were ready to renounce terrorism. The hard-line militia has long refused to negotiate with the Karzai government or join what it considers a puppet administration.

“Ground realities in our beloved country indicate that the invaders are about to escape,” Mullah Omar said in the message posted on a Web site used by the Taliban and e-mailed to journalists from an address often used to send out his statements.

The Taliban leader lambasted U.S.-backed efforts to create militias that would fight the militants - a plan that has been compared to the U.S.-fostered Awakening Councils in Iraq, which have often been credited with reducing violence there, and similar to neighboring Pakistan’s tribal armies, which also have been touted as a success.

Mullah Omar led the Taliban regime that was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and has not been seen since. Afghan officials say he is in hiding in Pakistan.

As the Taliban insurgency gathers strength, U.S. military officials expect Mr. Obama to authorize an infusion of about 32,000 to 35,000 troops to begin in February or March, which would be the largest expansion since the beginning of the war in 2001. Mr. Obama is to make a public address on his Afghan strategy Tuesday night.

NATO countries are also preparing to send more soldiers, with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown saying 10 NATO nations are ready to offer about 5,000 more troops. Britain, which has 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, the second-largest contingent after the United States, has not named the countries it says will provide the extra troops.

As part of efforts to bolster Afghanistan’s own security forces, the Interior Ministry announced Wednesday a salary increase for police to help boost recruitment and retention and curb rampant corruption in the force that suffers a higher death rate than the nation’s army.

Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said monthly salaries for police working in high-risk areas will increase from $180 to $240, while those of police in lower-risk areas will increase from $120 to $210.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said Wednesday that it had lost contact with a Predator drone in southern Afghanistan on Saturday. The U.S. Air Force Central Command said there was “no indication enemy action was involved.”

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