- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Hundreds and possibly thousands of Taliban recruits known as the “Sarbaz” — those who care nothing for their own lives — are involved in an increasing number of hit-and-run attacks against government and American troops.

Among them are young men like Siddiqullah, 24, who despite his recent engagement has put his life on hold to wage a holy war on “infidel” forces occupying his country.

“My parents insisted that I wait for a while and get married, but I told them that my first and last commitment is jihad and I don’t want to make any other commitment at this stage,” he said. “Jihad is now ordained for all of us.”

His enthusiasm is shared by hundreds of students from religious seminaries in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan who have crossed into Afghanistan to fight.

Siddiqullah said they move from village to village through the bleak mountains of this rugged region, sometimes walking for days seeking opportunities to attack U.S. troops and forces loyal to President Mohammed Karzai.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday in Kabul he was hopeful NATO might expand peacekeeping operations outside the Afghan capital, but that security was primarily the responsibility of Afghans.

Mr. Rumsfeld spoke during a brief visit to Afghanistan that coincided with an increase in violent attacks by the Taliban militia, and shortly after one of the biggest battles with the Taliban in at least 18 months, Reuters news agency reported.

Scores of residents demonstrated in Kabul yesterday against the presence of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. Some, unhappy with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s failure to bring security to many parts of the country, called for the return of the Taliban.

“I certainly agree that an expansion of ISAF would be a good thing,” Mr. Rumsfeld said in response to a question at a joint news conference with Mr. Karzai, adding there was “at least the possibility of somewhat of an expansion” of the 5,300-strong International Security Assistance Force.

Members of the Taliban say that their renewed campaign follows a reorganization carried out by three regional commanders earlier this year, on the orders of the movement’s one-eyed spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar — who, along with Osama bin Laden, remains at large.

Responding to the call, Mullah Dadullah Kakar, a one-legged veteran of the war against the Russians, and Maulvi Sadiq Hameed traveled to the madrassas, or religious schools, in Baluchistan, to recruit students.

The third Taliban commander, Hafiz Majeed, garnered support from the tribal chieftains and elders in southern Afghanistan.

Mullah Dadullah has fought the allies since the Taliban regime was driven from Kabul, Kandahar and Afghanistan’s other main cities. As one of Mullah Omar’s most trusted lieutenants, he escaped to Pakistan, where he was sheltered by Kakar tribesmen in Baluchistan.

“The tribesmen not only gave him shelter but also bought him a Land Cruiser and gave him huge amounts of money,” said a Taliban fighter. Later, when they realized he might be arrested in Baluchistan, the tribesmen moved Mullah Dadullah to a house in Karachi — Pakistan’s biggest city — which is dominated by affluent businessmen of the same Pashtun ethnic group as the Taliban.

Subsequently, Mullah Dadullah, accompanied by religious scholars from Afghanistan, visited dozens of religious schools in Pakistan’s tribal areas to lecture students and deliver instructions on jihad from Mullah Omar.

While hundreds have already joined the fight, Taliban leaders claim that many more religious students from Pakistan are ready to go.

In the past 15 days alone, about 150 people — including Afghan troops, policemen and civilians — have been killed in southern Afghanistan.

The most significant attack came when 400 Taliban militia reportedly captured one of the districts of Zabul province for a few hours, killing 29 government soldiers and hoisting a Taliban flag. They used the loudspeakers of mosques to warn residents not to cooperate with U.S. forces or the government.

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