DUBAI (Reuters) - Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden urged European countries to end their military cooperation with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, in an audio tape aired by Al Jazeera television on Thursday.
He said American power was waning and it would be wise for the Europeans to quickly end their role in Afghanistan, where many European countries contribute to the 50,000-strong NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces fighting his Taliban allies.
“With the grace of God ... the American tide is receding and they would eventually return to their home across the Atlantic ... It is in your interest to force the hand of your politicians (away from) the White House,” said a speaker in the recording who sounded like bin Laden.
He said the United States would soon leave the region, leaving Afghanistan’s neighbours “to settle their scores”.
In Washington, a U.S. counterterrorism official said the voice on the audio tape appeared to be bin Laden’s. It was not immediately clear when the new message was recorded.
The United States led the invasion of Afghanistan to depose its Taliban rulers in late 2001, after they refused to hand over bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders following the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Bin Laden did not make any threat in the portions of the recording aired by Jazeera. The full tape is yet to be released by an Islamist Web site which said on Monday it would carry it. Pro-al Qaeda militants have accused Al Jazeera of omitting important parts of the last bin Laden tape.
In the portions aired by Jazeera, bin Laden said the Taliban had no knowledge of plans for the 2001 attacks.
“I am the one responsible... The Afghan people and government knew nothing whatsoever about these events,” he said, adding that the United States had not provided any evidence of Taliban involvement to justify its invasion.
“Europe marched behind it with no choice but to be a lackey,” bin Laden said.
“I’m addressing you (Europeans) and not your politicians ... (who) like to be in the shadow of the White House as many third world leaders,” he said, naming current and former leaders of Britain, France, Spain and Italy, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The United States has been urging its NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, but European nations remain reluctant to commit further reinforcements.
Among European countries with troops in Afghanistan are Britain, Germany and France. The West says coalition forces aim to help bring security to allow reconstruction after decades of conflict.
But Afghanistan has seen a steady rise in violence since the Taliban relaunched their insurgency to overthrow the pro-Western Afghan government and eject foreign troops two years ago.
Bin Laden accused foreign forces of committing atrocities in Afghanistan.
“Most victims of your bombardments are purposely children and women. And you know that our (Muslim) women do not fight but you target them even during festivities to break the morale of the mujahideen (holy war fighters),” he said.
Bin Laden’s last message was released on October 22. The Saudi-born militant then urged unity between Iraq’s Sunni insurgents.
Additional reporting by Inal Ersan; Editing by Sami Aboudi