KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s Taliban vowed on Friday to take revenge on NATO forces for the killing of 17 civilians, for which a U.S. soldier is due to face charges, saying they had no faith in any court proceeding.
The massacre in the southern province of Kandahar as well as the burning of Korans at a NATO base have angered many Afghans and damaged relations at a time when Western forces are drawing down combat troops and the Taliban have suspended peace talks.
“This was a planed activity and we will certainly take revenge on all American forces in Afghanistan and don’t trust such trials,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, accused of killing the Afghans in a shooting rampage in Kandahar last week, will be charged with 17 counts of murder, a U.S. official said on Thursday.
Bales, a four-tour combat veteran, will face other charges, including attempted murder, but the official was unable to say how many additional counts there would be. Official charges have not yet been released.
The lawyer representing Bales said U.S. authorities lacked proof of what happened during the March 11 shooting spree in the Panjwai district.
The Taliban’s Mujahid reiterated the belief held by many Afghans that there must have been more than one soldier involved in the massacre - which U.S. authorities consistently deny.
“Now America tries to deceive the people and tries to blame the act on one soldier. This is a crime by the American government. Using such cleverness and deception is a huge crime,” Mujahid said.
Nearly 11 years after the Taliban government was toppled, the United States and its allies face a resilient insurgency, a weak Afghan government, and an uncertain future for Western support after the end of a 2014 pullout.
In a blow to NATO hopes of a negotiated end to the war, the Taliban said last week they were suspending nascent talks with the United States.
U.S. diplomats have been seeking to broaden exploratory talks with the Taliban that began clandestinely in Germany in late 2010 after the Taliban offered to open a representative office in Qatar.
The Islamist movement has said it was compelled to suspend the talks as the United States had only responded to its demands, including the release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with a list of conditions.
U.S. officials believe the Taliban’s suspension of preliminary peace talks was a tactical move reflecting internal tension rather than a definitive halt to discussions that the White House hopes will end the war.
Some U.S. officials and analysts have said they were relieved by the contents of the Taliban statement, which did not include a reference to the Koran burnings or civilian deaths, or announce a complete withdrawal from the process.
But in a statement on Friday, the Taliban said that the “atmosphere for negotiations” had been undermined by the burning of the Korans, the killings in Kandahar and footage of U.S. Marines appearing to urinate on the corpses of Afghans.
“How can the opposition on the one hand be calling towards a peaceful resolution to the Afghan problem and on the other justify such brutal actions?,” the group said on its website.
Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by Jack Kimball; Editing by Rob Taylor and Robert Birsel