KABUL -- Heavily armed Taliban fighters, appearing in a video purporting to show frontline militants in southern Afghanistan, have said the killing of Osama bin Laden will inspire them to continue fighting until all foreign troops have left the country.
It was impossible to verify the authenticity of the video, which was obtained by Reuters in southern Afghanistan.
About six unidentified Taliban fighters, all with their faces covered, posed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, machine guns and other weapons.
Three of them vowed to continue fighting NATO-led foreign troops and Afghan forces despite the death of Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader killed by a US strike team in Pakistan on Monday.
"Even if the news of Osama bin Laden's martyrdom is true, it will not change our jihad policy ... if it is true that he is dead, it will give us more motivation to continue our jihad," one fighter said in Pashto on the video.
The fighters spoke on condition that their names and location were not disclosed. Reuters obtained the footage from a source in southern Afghanistan.
The fighters lined up in front of the high mud walls of an unknown compound. No identifying landmarks could be seen.
"The martyrdom of Osama bin Laden is not going to affect our strategy and it will not stop us from our goal," a second fighter said, looking straight into the camera. "We will continue with our jihad?holy war) and sacrifice against infidels until the judgment day and we will avenge our martyears."
Analysts say Taliban leaders in Afghanistan are trying to distance themselves from al Qaeda, although links between the two Islamist groups had already diminished over the years even as the insurgency in Afghanistan grew.
The Taliban sheltered bin Laden in southern Afghanistan until their government was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in the months after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, masterminded by bin Laden.
Bin Laden and the Taliban leadership, headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar, fled into neighbouring Pakistan.
Doubts & Questions
A Taliban spokesman this week raised doubts about whether bin Laden had actually been killed.
Bin Laden's death has led to questions in the United States about whether Washington could now rethink its presence and accelerate what is planned as a gradual drawdown of troops before handing security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
Another fighter, carrying a radio similar to those often used by Taliban commanders, appeared to be the leader of the group and said his fighters remained committed to Mullah Omar.
"We will continue our jihad against the foreign forces. Our slogan is Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest)," he said.
"Our holy Koran says that we have responsibility to our country and religion to defend and protect it. Even if one mujahideen fighter is alive in Afghanistan, we'll continue our jihad under the leadership of His Excellency Amirullmomineen (Mullah Omar)," the bespectacled fighter said.
Still pictures purportedly taken at the same time showed an arsenal including several machine guns, armour-piercing rockets and launchers, assault rifles and other weapons.
After warnings by senior NATO commanders in Afghanistan that a wave of new attacks was expected from May 1, the Taliban announced last week their "spring offensive" had begun, with the foreign military and Afghan government on their target list.
A report released late on Thursday by the Afghanistan Analysts Network said that despite setbacks against Afghan and coalition troops over the past year, the Taliban had managed to widen its influence well beyond strongholds in the south.
"The Taliban not only want to fight the Afghan government, but want to replace it," the report said.