International Affairs

Taliban Show Tenacity in Afghanistan: NY Times

KABUL: Six years after being driven from power, the Taliban are demonstrating a resilience and a ferocity that are raising alarm here, in Washington and in other NATO capitals, and engendering a fresh round of soul-searching over how a relatively ragtag insurgency has managed to keep the world’s most powerful armies at bay.

The mounting toll inflicted by the insurgents, including nine American soldiers killed in a single attack last month, has turned Afghanistan into a deadlier battlefield than Iraq and refocused the attention of America’s military commanders and its presidential contenders on the Afghan war.

But the objectives of the war have become increasingly uncertain in a conflict where Taliban leaders say they do not feel the need to control territory, at least for now, or to outfight American and NATO forces to defeat them — only to outlast them in a region that is in any case their home.

The Taliban’s tenacity, military officials and analysts say, reflects their success in maintaining a cohesive leadership since being driven from power in Afghanistan, their ability to attract a continuous stream of recruits and their advantage in having a haven across the border in Pakistan.

While the Taliban enjoy such a sanctuary, they will be very hard to beat, military officials say, and American officials have stepped up pressure on Pakistan in recent weeks to take more action against the Taliban and other militants there. That included a visit last month by a top official of the Central Intelligence Agency who, American officials say, confronted senior Pakistani leaders about ties between the country’s powerful spy service and militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Pakistani officials say those ties, which stretch back decades, have been broken. But there is no doubt that the Taliban continue to use Pakistan to train, recruit, regroup and reinforce their insurgency. The advantage of that haven in Pakistan, even beyond the lawless tribal realms, has allowed the Taliban leadership to exercise uninterrupted control of its insurgency through the same clique of mullahs and military commanders who ran Afghanistan as a theocracy and harbored Osama bin Laden until they were driven from power in December 2001.

The Taliban’s reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, a war veteran, is widely believed by Afghan and Western officials runs a shadow government, complete with military, religious and cultural councils, and has appointed officials and commanders to virtually every Afghan province and district, just as he did when he ruled Afghanistan, the Taliban claim. He oversees his movement through a grand council of 10 people, the Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, said in a telephone interview.

Mullah Bradar, one of the Taliban’s most senior commanders serves as his first deputy. He passes down Mullah Omar’s commands and makes all military decisions, including how foreign fighters are deployed, according to Waheed Muzhta, a former Taliban Foreign Ministry official who lives in Kabul and follows the progress of the Taliban through his own research.

The Taliban even produce their own magazine, Al Somood, published online in Arabic, where details of their leadership structure can be found, he said. But while the Taliban may be united politically, the insurgency remains poorly coordinated at operational and strategic levels, said Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of the NATO force in Afghanistan.

Taliban forces cannot hold territory, and they cannot defeat NATO forces in a direct fight, other NATO officials say. They also note that scores of senior and midlevel Taliban commanders have been killed over the past year, weakening the insurgents, especially in the south. Meanwhile, Taliban spokesmen dismiss the idea of negotiations or power-sharing deals with the Afghan government, even though Afghan officials say that more Taliban members have made overtures to talk in recent months. “We carried out the fight to oppose the invaders,” one of the Taliban spokesmen, Mr. Ahmadi, said. “Now they are on the brink of humiliation. That’s the aim of our fight.”-SANA

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Noreen Gill

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