Afghan president calls for peace talks
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is calling for peace talks with the Taliban to bring an end to the conflict in his country.
There has not yet been any negotiations, only requests to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for help in facilitating the discussions, Karzai said in a statement at the presidential palace in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
The calls for peace talks were made as part of a message from the president to mark the Muslim religious holiday of Eid al-Fitr (Festival of Fast-Breaking), marking the end of Ramadan.
Karzai said his government is trying to encourage militants to lay down arms and Afghan officials have travelled to both Saudi Arabia and to Pakistan.
"For the last two years, I've sent letters to the king of Saudi Arabia, and I've sent messages, and I requested from him as the leader of the Islamic world, for the security and prosperity of Afghanistan and for reconciliation in Afghanistan ... he should help us," Karzai said.
In his message, Karzai said he would protect any Taliban or other militant leaders from U.S. and NATO troops if they came back to Afghanistan for peace talks.
"Don't be afraid of the foreigners. If they try to harm you, I will stand in front of them," he said.
Karzai said he has in the past reached out to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar to "come back to your home soil and work for the happiness of the people."
Omar, who went into hiding seven years ago, also released an Eid message on Tuesday that called Afghanistan security forces thieves, smugglers and criminals not worthy of people's trust and calling on foreign troops to leave the country.
The buildup of the Afghan security forces is the centrepiece of the American counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan and Omar's Eid message appeared to react to that, according to the Associated Press.
Afghan, U.S. and other international officials recently decided to increase the size of the Afghan army to 134,000, raising the previous cap of 80,000.
"Foreign forces are the thieves of our culture, faith, as well as natural resources, in the same way the army and police steal the money, dignity and the honour of the people," Omar said in the message that was posted on a website.
Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition has reported that three of its troops were killed in a roadside bomb blast in southern Afghanistan.
The coalition did not release any other details, including the nationalities of the troops or the blast's location. But Canadian military officials are reporting none of its troops was involved in blast, according to the Canadian Press.
With files from the Associated Press