Friday, September 19, 2008

The new Taliban

Readers will likely recall Globe and Mail reporter Graeme Smith's investigation into the Taliban earlier this year. Through numerous interviews with Taliban fighters, Smith was able to provide a sketch of a typical insurgent. Motivated to join the insurgency by attacks on family and neighbors, not highly ideological nor even showing any deep commitment to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, those interviewed showed a surprising side of the Taliban.

In The Telegraph Alex Thompson writes of cameraman Mehran Bozorgnia's visit to a Taliban encampment:

New breed of Taliban replaces old guard

Mehran Bozorgnia, a cameraman working for Channel 4 News, spent time with the Taliban in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan to discover this new breed...

Inside, it turned out to be the former home of Mullah Dadullah, the Mujahideen-turned-Taliban commander, killed by Nato forces (including Britain's Special Boat Service) last year. The house is still a command centre for "the Taliban". But that word is starting to lose meaning...

They soon demonstrated gruesome beheading videos on their state-of-the-art mobiles to establish their credentials...

And there was no evidence here of hordes crossing the frontier from Pakistan. To a man they were Afghan. The sole foreigner, Aftab Panjabi, a former Pakistan Army officer, took a dozen Talibs through the art of firing an AK47 accurately.

They were candid about their motives. There was no chat of Mullah Omar...

In modern terms they feel nothing has changed. They see a country mired in corruption...

By night they liked nothing more than a drop (or three) of whisky - though did not drink in front of a camera.

By day they encouraged locals to bet on the local sport of ram-fighting, laying money on which horned headbutter stuns its opponent the quickest. The Taliban who overtook this country more than a decade ago would have blanched.

They appeared equally happy to be filmed at a local wedding where - heaven forefend - a local band whacked out traditional Pashtun party tunes. The drum and keyboard combo need not have worried about the Mullah sending in goons to silence them. There is more, much more to the modern Taliban than brain-washed kids coming in from Pakistani madrassa schools, strapped up with explosives.

Of course they exist. But so do these new-style Afghan Talibs. Changed lifestyles and changed military tactics too. They happily showed off their stash of Afghan police and army uniforms. They discussed how they infiltrate local security forces. So they know when, where and how they will move. It's all about intelligence, ambush technology - not the costly frontal assaults of old.

As if to prove that, they supplied a video of them using the main Kabul-Kandahar highway as cover for rocketing a nearby compound. Daylight, brazen, confident - they moved almost leisurely, firing from the road. The traffic barely slowed. And what can Nato do - strafe Afghanistan's equivalent of the M1 motorway? ...

In all of this, an urgent lesson for Nato: these local, Afghan fighters enjoy real support. It is simply wrong to say it is just coercion and terror. Just like the Mujahideen did. Indeed, on this evidence the so-called Taliban might be changing into something far more like the Mujahideen than the madrassa-produced Pakistani Taliban.

Have Nato allowed themselves to become the new Russians? Many an Afghan would say yes. (link)
The New York Times recently quoted Spanish diplomat Francesc Vendrell who has eight years experience in Afghanistan:
While only a minority of Pashtuns actively support the Taliban, he said, most Pashtuns “are sitting on the fence to see who is going to be the winner."

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