Taliban supporters cheer US withdrawal plans

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Mohammad Manzoor Hussaini, who previously fought for the Taliban, said he wants peace in Afghanistan based on 'Islamic values'

Taliban loyalists are cheering the prospect of a deal with the US that after 18 years of gruelling conflict will see "defeated" American "invaders" finally go home.

While details of the deal have not been announced, it is widely expected the Pentagon will slash its troop presence in Afghanistan in return for various Taliban commitments.

AFP spoke to several Taliban fighters and supporters in and around Kandahar -- the southern Afghan province that is the birthplace of the Islamist movement and a key stronghold.

- 'Islamic values' -

Mohammad Manzoor Hussaini, who previously fought for the Taliban, was until two years ago hiding out in Pakistan but returned to Kandahar as the group's influence strengthened.

All Afghans want is a peace founded on "Islamic values", he said, using the same stock phrase the Taliban have used in talks with the United States.

The term is seen as contentious because it is open to broad interpretation, and the Taliban are known for pushing some of the most extreme views of the Islamic faith, including an almost total denial of all freedoms for women.

"Afghans wish for peace, moreover they want a dignified peace based on Islamic values, and peace among all Afghans," Hussaini said.

"Afghans should trust each other, and should be honest to each other, and should not pay attention to any foreigners".

But if things are handled poorly, the war could go on for another 20 years and spread to other countries too, Hussaini warned.

- Leaving with 'shame' -

Hafiz Mohammad Wali, a gardener from the Shahjoy District of Zabul province, which neighbours Kandahar, was delighted at news that a deal is likely to see the US military draw down its forces.

"For nearly 20 years, we have been hoping for this news, to see the Americans leave Afghanistan with shame," he said.

"People now are praying for peace in the country. We have fought a lot, and the fighting still continues today."

Like most of the Taliban supporters AFP spoke to, Wali worried about whether the group would be able to make a separate agreement with the Afghan government.

"Our main concern is how the Taliban and the Afghan government make peace," he said.

"Afghans have been fighting with each other for years in the villages and districts. Will they sit together? This is not just my concern, but other villagers are also worried about it."

Until now, the Taliban have refused to talk to the administration of President Ashraf Ghani, whom they view as a US stooge.

The upcoming withdrawal deal with the Taliban is expected to require "intra-Afghan" talks between the insurgents and Kabul.

- 'Defeated' America -

Mullah Gul Agha, a Taliban commander from the Marja district of Helmand province, another insurgent stronghold, said Afghans would never accept foreigners as their "masters".

"The Afghans have been fighting invaders for decades, once it was the Russians, today it is the Americans and the British," Agha said.

"With the Help of Almighty Allah, we have defeated them again."

The toll the war has taken on the US military -- more than 2,400 US troops killed in combat and thousands more with horrendous wounds -- would make America think twice before invading other countries, he said.

"Afghans accept a poor, humble life, but never anybody as their masters," he said.

- Both sides 'tired' -

Mullah Rauf, who was once a Taliban commander in the central province of Ghazni, was optimistic peace might finally come to Afghanistan after 18 years of conflict.

"Both sides in this war are tired," he said.

"I am very happy America is leaving, because they didn't give Afghans anything but war and destruction, and thousands of Afghans were killed... If Afghans join hands, they can prevent more destruction and bloodshed."