KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban's shadowy leader told Afghans on Wednesday that the insurgents are winning the war and warned Americans that they are wasting lives and billions in tax dollars by continuing in the conflict.
In an end-of-Ramadan message posted on jihadist websites and relayed by the Site Intelligence Group, the Taliban leader also said the Americans and their allies will soon leave the country. He urged his fighters to adhere to his code of conduct and avoid harming civilians – instructions U.S. commanders say the Taliban frequently ignore.
"The victory of our Islamic nation over the invading infidels is now imminent and the driving force behind this is the belief in the help of Allah and unity among ourselves," Mullah Omar said. "In the time to come, we will try to establish an Islamic, independent, perfect and strong system."
In remarks directed to the American people, Mullah Omar said the U.S. military had failed to achieve its objectives after nearly nine years.
"You should know that your rulers have continuously told you lies since the beginning of the aggression on Afghanistan until this very day. They have wasted hundreds of billion of dollars of your tax money in the shape of financial expenditures and your manpower in Afghanistan and have still been wasting them," he said.
"Therefore, they should abandon their headlong stubborn policy. Otherwise, the Americans will themselves face humiliation and disgrace before any one else does that."
Mullah Omar has not been seen in public since the Taliban were driven from power following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States. The Bush administration launched the war after the Taliban refused to hand over al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the attacks.
U.S. officials believe Mullah Omar is hiding in Pakistan despite denials by Pakistani authorities.
Mullah Omar's instructions to avoid harming civilians do not apply to Afghans who support the government or the U.S.-led coalition. The Taliban have threatened to attack polling stations during the Sept. 18 parliament elections, which they have condemned as serving only Western interests.
On Wednesday, Afghan election officials said scores of additional stations will be closed during the vote because of the deteriorating security situation in the country.
The state electoral commission said 81 of the 458 polling stations planned in Nangarhar province will be shut during the elections "due to deteriorating security conditions." The tense eastern province bordering Pakistan is a center of the Taliban insurgency, with many militants entering the country from safe havens across the border.
Election officials had earlier announced that more than 900 other polling stations would remain shut nationwide because of security concerns and that 5,897 voting sites would be opened throughout Afghanistan. During last year's fraud-marred presidential vote, 6,167 voting centers nominally operated.
The government and its foreign partners hope the elections will help consolidate the country's shaky democracy and political stability, allowing the withdrawal of the roughly 140,000 NATO-led foreign troops in the country. But many Afghans and international observers fear the vote could turn bloody after the Taliban vowed Sunday to attack polling places and warned Afghans not to participate in what it called a sham vote.
Security concerns were underscored by an assassination attempt Wednesday on the head of Zhari district in turbulent Kandahar province. It killed one of his bodyguards and wounded several others.
Kareem Jan said Taliban insurgents ambushed his convoy as he was returning to Kandahar city, adding that it was the third attempt on his life since he assumed office in June.
The election fears come amid pledges by Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center – a small, evangelical Christian church that espouses an anti-Islam philosophy – to burn copies of the Quran to mark the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States that provoked the Afghan war.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, has warned that the burning of the Quran could endanger U.S. troops in the country and Americans worldwide.
"If this happens, I think the first and most important reaction will be that wherever Americans are seen, they will be killed," Mohammad Mukhtar, a cleric and an election candidate for the Afghan parliament, said in Kabul. "No matter where they will be in the world they will be killed."
In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded in riots in Afghanistan sparked by a story in Newsweek magazine alleging that interrogators at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay placed copies of the Quran in washrooms and flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk. Newsweek later retracted the story.
Meanwhile, NATO reported Wednesday the death of one of its service members following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan. It did not provide details of the attack or the nationality of the victim.
The presence of coalition forces and allegations of Pakistani support for the Taliban featured prominently in speeches at a Kabul rally to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the death of legendary anti-Soviet guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud. The ethnic Tajik commander was murdered by two al-Qaida members posing as journalists two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
Massoud's brother, former Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud, accused Pakistan of continuing to support the Taliban and called for international pressure on Pakistan to hand over Taliban leaders believed to be sheltering in the country's lawless northwest regions.
Associated Press Writers Dusan Stojanovic and Amir Shah in Kabul and Todd Pitman and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar province contributed to this report.