KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said yesterday that the Taliban pose no threat to the security of Afghanistan, despite news of a fresh attack on aid workers attributed to remnants of the fundamentalist regime.
"I've not seen any indication that the Taliban pose any military threat to the security of Afghanistan," said Rumsfeld, addressing reporters alongside Karzai after his sixth visit to Afghanistan in the two years since the Taliban regime was toppled.
Karzai said he was being contacted on a daily basis by Taliban leaders seeking to be allowed to return home, in a sign that the movement is finished as a political force.
"The Taliban doesn't exist anymore," Karzai said. "They're defeated. They're gone."
The upbeat assessments coincided with another attack on aid workers that closely resembled previous attacks attributed to the Taliban, this one on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul.
Five aid workers with an Afghan non-governmental organization, Sanayee Development Foundation, were killed in Surobi, a rural district of Kabul province, by two men who stopped their car, ordered them to stand in line and then shot them one by one.
Three other members of the group escaped and reported that the assailants had jeered at the aid workers for "living in luxury while our friends are in prison in Cuba," a reference to the hundreds of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners detained at Guantanamo Bay, according to Dad Mohammed Dalili, director of the agency's Kabul office.
Asked about the incident, Karzai said that not all the violence in Afghanistan could be attributed to the Taliban and that robbery and banditry are also to blame.
But in this instance, Dalili said he was sure robbery was not the motive for the attack. The assailants raked the aid workers' vehicle with gunfire but did not steal it, and they did not take valuables or money from their victims, he said.
"They were probably Taliban or people related to terrorists," he said. The agency had been helping organize local elections in rural villages in the area and had previously alerted the Kabul police that the village from which the executed aid workers were returning that day was "a nest of Taliban," he said.
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