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View Full Version : Taliban re-emerge as Afghanistan foe


Mr. Laz
08-21-2005, 09:40 AM
Posted on Sun, Aug. 21, 2005

Guerrillas fortified with new weapons and borrowed tactics prove formidable


Retooled Taliban re-emerge as Afghanistan foe

By JONATHAN S. LANDAY

Knight Ridder Newspapers


LANDING ZONE NORTH DAKOTA, Afghanistan — Iraq gets the headlines, but don’t tell the 60 young men of Battle Company the major combat in Afghanistan is over.

The Taliban, nearly four years after being toppled by the U.S.-led military intervention, have re-emerged as a potent threat to stability in Afghanistan.

Although they are a far cry from the mass movement that overran most of the country in the 1990s, today’s Taliban are fighting a guerrilla war with new weapons, including portable anti-aircraft missiles, and equipment bought with cash sent through Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, according to Afghan and Western officials. While they were in power, the Taliban provided a haven to bin Laden and al-Qaida.

For the past four months, the paratroopers of Battle Company and other U.S. units have been fighting a war thousands of feet up in the sun-blasted peaks and boulder-strewn defiles of one of history’s most grueling battlefields. They are facing guerrillas who were born here, hardened by poverty and backwardness, and steeped in a centuries-old tradition of resisting foreigners.

The guerrillas’ aim is to impose another hard-line Islamic regime on Afghanistan, one that might make the country again a sanctuary for bin Laden and his al-Qaida jihadis.

Since March, the Taliban have killed more than 40 U.S. troops and more than 800 Afghan officials, police, soldiers, aid workers and civilians. The hope is to derail Sept. 18 parliamentary and provincial elections, and erode confidence in President Hamid Karzai and his U.S.-led backers.

Borrowing tactics from their counterparts in Iraq, they have beheaded alleged informers and staged two suicide bombings, a form of terrorism rarely seen in Afghanistan.

The Taliban are no match for highly trained U.S. troops in face-to-face clashes. The Americans are equipped to fight at night and are backed by helicopter gunships, jets, unmanned spy planes, Afghan soldiers and local intelligence officers.

But after suffering massive casualties in a series of major firefights, the Taliban have learned to avoid set-piece battles with troops trying to pen them up in the mountains so they can’t sabotage the upcoming polls.

The war has evolved into a bloody game of cat and mouse, a classic guerrilla struggle with echoes of the much larger and far bloodier conflicts in Iraq, Chechnya and Vietnam.

The outcome may come down to which side can outlast the other.

The Taliban operate in small bands, striking, then melting back into local populations.

“One day they could be firing at you, and serving you chai (tea) the next,” said Army Capt. Michael Kloepper, 29, who commands Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade.

A helicopter recently dropped him and some of his men on a boulder-strewn hilltop dubbed Landing Zone North Dakota on a two-day mission in a remote valley in southern Zabul province.

Battle Company belongs to a task force of about 900 U.S. troops and 800 soldiers of the newly minted Afghan army operating in Zabul province, one of the worst affected by the insurgency. Zabul — an area the size of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island combined — resembles the blighted moonscape and sharp peaks of Mordor in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

A Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent and a Fort Worth Star-Telegram photographer spent five days with Battle Company and several other U.S. units at the leading edge of the Bush administration’s effort to stabilize a country ravaged by decades of civil war and overwhelmed by destitution, corruption, overpopulation, disease and despair.

The guerrillas stash their arms in the wheat stacks, wells, thick groves and the off-limits women’s quarters of adobe compounds. Their hiding places are scattered in the small oases of almond and apple trees in valleys wedged between mountains.

Hiding in mountaintop caves and crevices, the Taliban track U.S. troops and aircraft — sometimes for scores of miles — and pass intelligence to each other in coded language by walkie-talkies that are extremely difficult to get a fix on.

“A lot of times, it’s like chasing ghosts,” said Kloepper’s radio operator, Spc. Mark Cushman, 20.

Some locals are forced to feed and shelter the guerrillas. Others collaborate because they share the Taliban’s harsh interpretation of Islam or are linked to fighters through tribe and family ties.

The Taliban also may be profiting from outrage at U.S. troops who inadvertently violate cultural taboos while searching compounds, and from rising anger over the slow pace of U.S.-led reconstruction programs that seem focused mostly on urban centers.

Afghanistan has in effect become two countries.

In 24 provinces in the north, west and center, home to the main ethnic minorities, little major violence has been reported. NATO-protected international reconstruction efforts are moving ahead, and there is optimism the elections, a key point in Washington’s efforts to push the country toward democracy and allow a withdrawal of U.S. forces, won’t be disrupted.

But in Zabul and nine other southern and eastern provinces bordering Pakistan, the upsurge in Taliban violence has stalled international aid efforts and may impede the elections, which would be a serious blow to Karzai and America.

The north and south are the heartland of the Pashtuns, the ethnic majority from which the Taliban come. Pashtuns also dominate the lawless tribal belt on Pakistan’s side of the border. It is there the Taliban, allies of Pakistan’s Islamist political parties and former clients of its military intelligence service, are said to maintain havens, supply depots and training camps.

Islamabad denies the allegation.

The commanders of the 18,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan have responded with a hard-hitting counterinsurgency campaign. They have also been reaching out to tribal elders and their people with humanitarian and medical assistance, and pledges of better security to encourage them to turn in guerrillas and vote in the elections.

More than 400 guerrillas reportedly have been killed or captured. Still, U.S. commanders expect the bloodshed to escalate through election day. Then will come winter, when snow will block the mountain passes, and the Taliban, most of whose top leaders were never captured, will be able to rest, regroup, rearm and recruit.

The new American ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald E. Neumann, said Thursday the Taliban had “absolutely no chance” of derailing the Sept. 18 elections because security would be too tight.

The Taliban’s new tactics, however, suggest to some experts the surge in violence is more than an effort to impede the elections. These experts fear the Taliban’s resurgence may be part of an al-Qaida strategy aimed at keeping the U.S. military stressed and bleeding not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan.

“I think they (al-Qaida) are opening a second front,” said Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department intelligence analyst who is now at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “I don’t think the elections are really the focus. These are people who see this in broader terms.”

A Western diplomat in Kabul agreed, saying Taliban propaganda links the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. officials in Washington said they had no proof of such an al-Qaida-coordinated strategy. But an American defense official said he could not exclude it, and that he and other U.S. officials are concerned about the lessons the Taliban are drawing from Iraq.

“It would be extremely naive of us not to believe that the enemy is a thinking, learning, adapting enemy,” the official said. “There is certainly learning that is going on, and we have to remind ourselves of not falling into the trap of not understanding it. It’s potentially much larger than Iraq and Afghanistan.”

memyselfI
08-21-2005, 02:18 PM
I guess this could be really scary news if we weren't WINNING the WOT...

:hmmm:

Electric
08-21-2005, 02:22 PM
I guess this could be really scary news if we weren't WINNING the WOT...

:hmmm:

You remain one of the most uninformed people I've ever seen on the internet. (You actually may not be uninformed, just so biased that you can't see which way is up!!)

memyselfI
08-21-2005, 02:23 PM
You remain one of the most uninformed people I've ever seen on the internet. (You actually may not be uninformed, just so biased that you can't see which way is up!!)

Did I miss a newsflash or something... :hmmm:

Electric
08-21-2005, 02:28 PM
Did I miss a newsflash or something... :hmmm:

I'd say that you've missed virtually every newsflash since your best bud W was elected. I've not seen one thing that you approved of. If slick willie was still in office you'd be praising the war effort and sending your kids in to help out.

memyselfI
08-21-2005, 02:30 PM
I'd say that you've missed virtually every newsflash since your best bud W was elected. I've not seen one thing that you approved of. If slick willie was still in office you'd be praising the war effort and sending your kids in to help out.

Oh my, the CPRWNJ talking points email must have gone out earlier this week...

Electric
08-21-2005, 03:01 PM
Oh my, the CPRWNJ talking points email must have gone out earlier this week...

You are probably the only person that has a lower point level than I do in the reps!!! Does that tell you anything? LWNJ?