Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, has issued an Eid message claiming victories on the battlefield against NATO.
The rare statement from Omar, believed by Afghanistan to be hiding in neighbouring Pakistan, came on Friday as Muslims prepared for Eid-al-Fitr celebrations marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
The seven-page message was posted on the Taliban's website.
Defending peace overtures with the US, which were suspended earlier this year, Omar said the "unique distinction" of this year's summer offensive by the Taliban was that it had reached all areas of the country.
He said the offensive compelled NATO and Afghan government troops to adopt defensive positions.
Omar claimed that a spate of attacks by Afghan forces against NATO personnel was the result of Taliban infiltrating local security units.
NATO, which has about 130,000 US-led troops in Afghanistan, has acknowledged a surge in such incidents this summer, but says most are caused by cultural differences between troops and plays down the role of Taliban infiltration.
A total of 37 foreign troops have been killed in those attacks this year.
In an apparent move to allay fears among some Taliban factions, Omar said that initial talks with the United States "had not meant submission or abandoning our goals".
Instead, he said, they had been aimed at initiating an exchange of prisoners, opening a political office and to "reach our goals".
'Rights to women'
Omar said the Taliban "will make efforts to reach an understanding with the Afghan factions in due time following [the] pull-out of the invaders".
NATO troops are due to withdraw by the end of 2014.
The Taliban have always refused to negotiate directly with the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Attempting to counter its reputation for the brutal suppression of women's rights, Omar said a Taliban government would "give all legitimate rights to women in the light of the Islamic principles, national interests and our noble culture".
The Taliban were in power from 1996 until in 2001 when the US launched an invasion against Afghanistan, accusing the group of giving Osama bin Laden, blamed for the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, sanctuary.
The message came a day after a NATO Black Hawk helicopter came down in southern Afghanistan, killing seven American soldiers and four Afghans, the military said, as Taliban fighters claimed responsibility.
NATO's US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said four Afghans included three members of the security forces and a civilian interpreter.
Qari Yusuf Ahmadi,a Taliban spokesman, said: "Our mujahideen (holy warriors) shot down an ISAF helicopter in Chenarto area of Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province at around 11:00 am (06:30 GMT)."
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|Timothy V. Gatto|
|William A. Cook|