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Taliban message predicts victory, tries to discredit conference

A message released Monday allegedly written by the leader of the Afghan Taliban predicted imminent victory as more foreign troops die and Taliban fighters better understand NATO tactics, acquire more weapons, shoot down more aircraft and kill more officials.

"All these give us good news of an imminent victory and a bright future," said the message released on the eve of one of Islam's most important holidays, Eid al-Fitr.

The statement signed by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the movement's reclusive, one-eyed leader, follows President Obama's announcement in June that 10,000 American troops will leave this year.

The U.S. drawdown is part of an accelerated withdrawal by foreign troops ahead of a 2014 deadline for transferring security to the Afghans.

The message appeared eager to discredit a planned December conference in Bonn, Germany, that could bring together representatives from 90 countries and international organizations, the Afghan government and members of the insurgency to discuss the nation's future.

The planned Bonn conference, like past conferences, is "superficial and hype-oriented," the statement said, calling it part of a Pentagon and White House effort to distract the public and prevent Afghans from solving their own problems.

The statement's authenticity could not be verified, but it was sent to journalists from an email address used previously to disseminate Omar's statements. It also was posted on a website used by the Taliban.

The letter, if written by Omar, would be among his most comprehensive messages to date, analysts said, with less rhetoric in order to better appeal to Afghan moderates.

Of particular note was the letter's softer line toward the Kabul government and its suggestion that the Taliban doesn't seek to monopolize power, said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network.

Among the major points outlined in the missive: a limited withdrawal of foreign troops will solve nothing; the "blind-bombardment, night raids, brutality, torture and tyranny" of foreign troops will only spark more jihads; and Afghans won't accept permanent U.S. bases or other "colonialist games."

If outsiders leave, however, and an independent Islamic regime results, Afghan leaders will establish friendly relations with countries around the world.

In another development, the Associated Press said direct U.S. talks with the Taliban last spring had evolved to a substantive negotiation before Afghan officials, nervous that the secret and independent talks would undercut President Hamid Karzai, scuttled them.

Featured prominently in the talks was the whereabouts and eventual release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, who was captured more than two years ago in eastern Afghanistan, according to a senior Western diplomat in the region and a childhood friend of the Taliban negotiator, Tayyab Aga.

The U.S. negotiators asked Aga what could be done to gain Bergdahl's release. The discussion did not get into specifics, but Aga discussed the release of Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.

Published reports about the clandestine meetings ended the talks abruptly and sent Aga into hiding.