- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — Nearly four years after the September 11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the dispatch of U.S. and NATO forces to Afghanistan, the Taliban have regrouped, turning 2005 into the deadliest year so far for foreign troops, using tactics based on lessons learned by Islamic militants in Iraq.

At least 65 American soldiers and Marines have been killed this year in Afghanistan’s southern and eastern provinces bordering Pakistan — the most since U.S. military operations began here in late 2001.

In addition, criminal gangs and factional infighting in the U.S.-backed government have contributed to violent acts and kidnappings of Westerners here in the capital, where international aid organizations, NATO military units and diplomatic personnel had operated quite freely.

Since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, an alliance between former Taliban fighters and members of a jihadist group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has resisted the Western military presence and the new government led by President Hamid Karzai.

Until this year, their efforts were small-scale hit-and-run attacks limited to a few provinces bordering Pakistan, where Afghan and U.S. military officials say they are given sanctuary. But new levels of sophistication in their planning and execution appeared this year, say U.S. military and Afghan officials.

This is confirmed by an Afghan source close to the Taliban, who cannot be named for fear of arrest.

“The Taliban have divided up into groups of 18 to 20 people,” he said, after meeting with a group in late August. “In each unit is a member of al Qaeda from Pakistan or an Arab, who teaches them tactics developed in Iraq.”

New tactics developed

A senior official in the Karzai government’s intelligence apparatus, who is also a former Taliban member, confirmed that the Taliban has refined its tactics with help from al Qaeda and rogue elements of Pakistan’s intelligence services. The latter also provide sanctuary and training, the intelligence official said.

“When the Taliban collapsed, they fled to Pakistan where they were told they could operate and train safely as long as they went back to their own country to fight the Americans,” said the intelligence official, who is prohibited from speaking to reporters and asked not to be named.

Foreigners get money

Mullah Kudus, a retired Taliban commander, says his former comrades in arms see the Western military presence as anti-Islamic occupation. He added that much of the fighting is economic in nature.

“The new government is a slave to America,” he said at his small farm outside Kabul.

“Who gets all the aid money the Americans say they spend here? The Afghans are still poor and jobless. The money goes to Westerners [working for nongovernmental organizations and aid groups] and is taken out of this country. When the Afghan people realize this, they will again open a jihad against the foreign occupiers.”

In several cases, this year’s spike in U.S. casualties can be directly tied to tactics developed by insurgents in Iraq.

Six American soldiers were killed and three U.S. Embassy personnel were wounded in three bombings last month that penetrated armored vehicles. Western and Afghan officials said the bombs apparently incorporated lessons learned by insurgents in Iraq, where roadside bombs have become larger and more deadly over the past year.

U.S. and Afghan government forces have responded to the rising violence with operations of their own that reportedly caused hundreds of Taliban casualties, though their number cannot be independently verified.

Internal tension rises

Besides increasing combat between occupation forces and ethnic Pashtun Taliban fighters in the provinces bordering Pakistan and around Kandahar, the Karzai government has experienced internal tension as it exerts more control over former Northern Alliance commanders who helped the United States fight the Taliban.

These warlords, who fought the 10-year Soviet occupation that began in 1979, have been reluctant to cede control of their territory to Kabul or lucrative criminal activities like drug smuggling. The tension between Mr. Karzai and many of his officials has led to increased violence in the previously safe capital, according to Afghan and foreign officials.

The unnamed Afghan security official said that a handful of suicide attacks and kidnappings — including the abduction in May of Clementina Cantoni, an Italian worker with CARE International — have been linked to Tajik warlords seeking to embarrass Mr. Karzai.

“When one former security commander in Kabul was fired from the ministry, he allowed several attacks to take place to show Karzai cannot bring security without the [warlords]. And many of these officials have been allowing criminal activity to take place.

“Clementina was taken after several big guys were fired for their connections to criminal gangs. In Kabul, the crime and terrorism is not the Taliban, it’s angry Tajik commanders,” he said.

Tajik commanders — most of whom fought under revered leader Ahmed Shah Masood, who was assassinated two days before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 — say elements in the Karzai government are targeting them, fearful of their prowess as militia leaders.

On Aug. 19 in Kabul, three gunmen in police uniforms killed Karim Abed Abadi, a famous Tajik combat leader and candidate for parliament. Two days later, dozens of former anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban commanders came to pay their respects in the tiny village of Qarabagh. The talk among them quickly turned to whether the Karzai government was having mujahedeen commanders murdered.

Civil war feared

Abdul Ghader Wahab, the village mullah and a former jihadist himself, said a plot was under way and would have to be dealt with to prevent all-out war between the militias and the government.

“The enemies of Islam do not want the mujahedeen to regain power or enter parliament,” the rural cleric said.

“We do not call the Karzai government the launcher of the attacks or an enemy of Islam, but if they do not pursue the killers, then we will consider the government the assassins in this case, and we will discuss the need for jihad against the government then.”

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