Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Herald.com | 08/21/2005 | Taliban shake Afghan stability with new tactics

Herald.com | 08/21/2005 | Taliban shake Afghan stability with new tactics:

"''Al Qaeda is channeling money and equipment,'' said Lt. George Hughbanks, a U.S. Army intelligence officer in Zabul province, one of the worst hit by the Taliban insurgency.

The Taliban are now a disparate assemblage of radical groups estimated to number several thousand, far fewer than when they were in power before November 2001. The fighters operate in small cells that occasionally come together for specific missions. They are unable to hold territory or defeat coalition troops.

They are linked by a loose command structure and an aim of driving out U.S.-led coalition and NATO troops, toppling U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai, and reimposing hard-line Islamic rule on Afghanistan, according to Afghan and Western officials and experts.

The Taliban insurgents have adopted some of the terrorist tactics that their Iraqi counterparts have used to stoke popular anger at the Iraqi government and the U.S. military. They have stalled reconstruction and fomented sectarian tensions in a country that remains mired in poverty and corruption, illegal drugs and ethnic and political hatred.

BOMBINGS, BEHEADINGS

Their tactics include attacks with homemade explosives, and beheadings, assassinations and kidnappings targeting public officials and others who cooperate in international democracy-building efforts and reconstruction.

The violence continued last week. A homemade bomb planted by the Taliban killed two U.S. soldiers Thursday near the southern city of Kandahar. And Friday, a U.S. Marine was killed in the eastern province of Kunar, bringing to at least 45 the number killed in hostile actions in the past six months.

The new American ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald E. Neumann, said Thursday that the Taliban had ''absolutely no chance'' of derailing the Sept. 18 parliamentary and provincial council voting because security would be too tight.

`A SECOND FRONT'

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

''I think they 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,'' Weinbaum said."

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