'Help us'

"For the last two years, I've sent letters to the king of Saudi Arabia and I've sent messages, and I requested from him as the leader of the Islamic world, for the security and prosperity of Afghanistan and for reconciliation in Afghanistan ... he should help us,'' Karzai said.

He said Afghan officials had also travelled to both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to discuss the issue.

Saudi Arabia was one of the few countries to recognise the Taliban government when they ruled most of Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Karzai said that he would personally protect Taliban leaders from US and Nato troops if they came back to Afghanistan for talks.

"A few days ago I called upon their leader, Mullah Omar, and said 'My brother, my dear, come back to your homeland, come and work for the peace and good of your people and stop killing your brothers'," he told reporters.

"Don't be afraid of the foreigners. If they try to harm you, I will stand in front of them."

Safe passage

Karzai's statement came just hours after Mullah Omar released his own Eid message offering international forces safe passage if they withdrew from Afghanistan and calling on his fighters not to harm civilians.

"I say to the invaders: 'If you leave our country, we will provide you the safe context to do so'," Omar said in a statement posted on a website.

"If you insist on your invasion, you will be defeated like the Russians before you."

This year has been the deadliest for international forces since the invasion in 2001 with at least 221 foreign soldiers being killed in the first nine months of 2008. 

Omar has told Taliban fighters to "stand like steel in front of the enemy" but stop "action which is not compliant with Islamic law and culture" including bombings in mosques and crowded areas.

A report to the UN securty council last week said that more than 3,800 people had been killed by the end of July as Afghan and international forces have battled Taliban fighters.

More than one-third of those casulaties were civilians.