A day after NATO officially marked the end of its 13-year combat mission in Afghanistan, the Taliban have declared the "defeat" of the coalition. The insurgent group ruled the war-torn country from 1996 to 2001.
In a statement released on Monday in English, the Taliban described the US-led mission as a "fire of barbarism and cruelty" that had drowned Afghanistan "in a pool of blood."
"We consider this step a clear indication of their defeat and disappointment," the Taliban added.
"America, its invading allies ... along with all international arrogant organizations have been handed a clear-cut defeat in this lopsided war."
The Taliban statement also said that the group would fight on "for the establishment of a pure Islamic system by expelling the remaining invading forces unconditionally."
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said he is open to peace talks, but the Taliban said it would "continue its Jihad and struggle so long as a single foreigner remains in Afghanistan in a military uniform."
'Training and support'
On Sunday, a symbolic ceremony (pictured above) at NATO headquarters in Afghanistan marked the official end to the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) combat mission. It also completed the step-by-step handover of responsibility to Afghan forces, who have nominally been in charge of security since the middle of last year.
The ISAF combat mission will now transition to a "training and support" mission under NATO leadership, starting on January 1, 2015.
The "Resolute Support Mission" will see 13,500 soldiers, mostly American, provide training and aid to Afghan army, paramilitary and police forces as they try to put down a deadly insurgency by the Taliban. Up to 850 German troops will also be deployed to Afghanistan as part of the "Resolute Support Mission" for a period of one year.
Many Afghans fear that the withdrawal of all NATO combat troops will contribute to a deteriorating security situation, with Afghan officials complaining of a lack of assets such as air support, medical infrastructure and intelligence.
Over the past 12 months, the Taliban has launched increasingly deadly attacks, in which more than 4,600 Afghan soldiers and police officers have died. Almost 3,200 Afghan civilians were also killed in the conflict between the militant group and the army in 2014.
Since 2001, nearly 3,500 foreign soldiers have been killed in the war, including around 2,200 US troops.
ksb/sb (Reuters, AFP)