History

The US refuses to negotiate with the Taliban

September - November 2001

In the aftermath of 9/11, the US issued a series of demands to Afghanistan's rulers, the Taliban, including the surrender of Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban did not meet these demands. Instead, they offered to enter into talks.


Photo: On 24 September 2001, US President George W Bush discusses preparations for military action in Afghanistan. (AP)

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The war in Afghanistan
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Smoke pours from the twin towers of the World Trade Center, 11 September 2001 (Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

11 September 2001

The 9/11 terrorist attacks

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Northern Alliance Troops entering Kandahar, Afghanistan - October 12th, 2001 (Patrick Aventurier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

7 October - 9 December 2001

The Taliban are forced out of Afghanistan

More information about: The US refuses to negotiate with the Taliban

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the US government swiftly identifiedOsama Bin Laden as their prime suspect. The leader of the Islamist terror group al-Qaeda initially denied involvement in 9/11, and did not claim responsibility until October 2004.

Bin Laden was closely allied to the Taliban, the ruling power in Afghanistan. The Taliban publicly condemned the attacks, but admitted that the fugitive al-Qaeda leader was living in Afghanistan. They called for restraint, and demanded evidence from the US regarding Bin Laden's alleged involvement.

Addressing clerics in Kabul on 19 September 2001, the Taliban's leader Mullah Mohammed Omar argued that the US was using Bin Laden's involvement in 9/11 as a pretext for removing the Taliban from power, and signalled that the Taliban were ready for talks.

The US government swiftly rejected Mullah Omar's offer. "The president's message to the Taliban is very simple," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "It's time for action, not negotiations."

US president George W Bush was strongly supported by the British prime minister Tony Blair, who stated: "We ...here in Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends in this hour of tragedy".

Five point ultimatum

On 20 September 2001, President Bush spoke before a Joint Session of Congress declaring a "War on Terrorism" and asked "Who attacked our country? The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al-Qaeda... This group and its leader - a person named Osama Bin Laden - are linked to many other organizations in different countries".

The speech contained a five-point ultimatum for the Taliban:

1. Deliver to the US all al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan

2. Release all imprisoned foreign nationals

3. Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers

4. Close immediately every terrorist training camp, and hand over every terrorist and their supporters

5. Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps for inspection

"No timetable for the Taliban"

On 2 October 2001, US President George W Bush again rejected a Taliban appeal for discussions. "There is no timetable for the Taliban, just like there are no negotiations," he said. His position was confirmed by Fleischer: "There will be no discussions and no negotiations. So what they say is not as important as what they do. And it's time for them to act."

On 7 October the first air strikes began. One week into the military campaign the Taliban made a further failed plea for negotiations. Afghanistan's deputy prime minister Maulvi Abdul Kabir told reporters in Jalalabad that the Taliban would hand over Bin Laden if the US stopped bombing Afghanistan.

Bush and Blair stand firm

The US remained resolute in its refusal to negotiate. Bush told reporters on the White House lawn: "This is non-negotiable. There is no need to discuss innocence or guilt; we know he's guilty. Turn him over. If they want us to stop our military operations they've just got to meet my conditions."

On 6 November, the British prime minister Tony Blair, speaking on CNN's Larry King Live, backed up Bush's position: "The Taliban regime and the al-Qaeda network have virtually merged now. Their forces are the same, probably their military structures are virtually the same. So there's no negotiating with them."

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