Washington: The new Taliban leader has an opportunity to choose peace and to work towards a negotiated solution to join the Afghan-led peace talks, the US said. "We would hope that he would seize the opportunity," State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner told reporters at his daily news conference on Wednesday.
Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, a religious leader was appointed as the new leader of the Taliban after the death of Mullah Mansour in a US drone strike in Pakistan on Saturday.
The Taliban has rejected peace overtures from the Afghan government. "He (Akhundzada) does have an opportunity in front of him to choose peace and to work towards a negotiated solution. We hope that he makes that choice now," Toner said in response to a question.
Akhundzada is not in any terrorist designated list, he said, but did not respond to questions if he is on the target of US forces in Afghanistan. "I'm not going to predict who we might target in the national security interest of the US," he said.
Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter hoped that better sense would prevail on the new Taliban leadership headed by Akhundzada. "We'll have to see what new Taliban leadership concludes. Obviously, the conclusion that they should draw is that they cannot win," Carter told reporters travelling with him at Newport in Rhode Island.
Carter said that the Afghan Security Forces, aided by the US, are going to be stronger than them. "Therefore, the alternative to coming across and making peace with the government is their certain defeat on the battlefield. That's the environment in which we intend to put them in," Carter said.
"And it's from that posture, if it's possible at all, that a sensible leader of the Taliban would conclude that they can't succeed by arms alone. We'll see whether this individual makes that conclusion or not. Obviously, his predecessor didn't draw that conclusion," the Defence Secretary said in response to a question.
"The only thing I'd say about our plans in the future is this. Our plan in Afghanistan is to reduce the overall foot print of US forces there, but we're going to be there for a long time. And in the most important way, which is the support of the Afghan Security Forces," Carter said.
"We have the funding, which we're going to continue to give them, the NATO allies have indicated that they would continue to fund the Afghan Security Forces and that's the most critical thing," he said.
"And then, of course, we'll be in there for the purposes of supporting the Afghan security forces and also our counter-terrorism mission. That's not going away next year," Carter said.
Updated Date: May 26, 2016 09:14 AM