Al Qaeda's ploy: parry and run
As US officials declare Operation Anaconda a success, Al Qaeda is regrouping with fresh recruits and funds.
(Page 2 of 2)
"Moreover, some of the Afghan forces with whom the Americans are working are sharing information with both sides," adds the general, a large man who, after 40 years in the military, wears a gray business suit while his olive wool uniform hangs on a wooden coat stand behind his desk. "In this phase of the war, the Americans have to win over local commanders by giving them money."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In fact, the US military has been investing time, funds, and expertise in training Afghan forces, but Afghan officials say it is not enough. Many outside experts agree. Moreover, rivalries among competing forces make it difficult. "The problem is that when the Americans give money to one commander, the other commander will get angry and give information to Al Qaeda," Mohammed says. To break that pattern, the interim government needs to create one national military that crosses ethnic and geographical divides.
US officials in Kabul hope Congress will pass a bill this spring that will provide additional military aid to Afghanistan. But, warns another official in Afghanistan's interim government, the Pashtuns the country's largest ethnic group are feeling slighted by the US military's reliance on the Northern Alliance, made up mostly of Tajiks and some Uzbeks.
"In Shah-e Kot, the Americans called in the Northern Alliance to go in ahead of them, and Panjshiris cannot operate there," says the official, referring to Tajiks, who come from the Panjshir region northeast of Kabul, whose language and landscape are different from the provinces south of Kabul, where the recent fighting has taken place.
Others, however, point out that even if the geographical nooks and crannies have not changed since Afghanistan's war with the Soviets, the political landscape has. In those days, the mujahideen had almost complete backing of local people. Now, loyalties are far more mixed, with key military factions supporting the US-led forces, not to mention a government in Kabul that wants and needs the West to stay engaged in both the war and the reconstruction effort.
"The battles we're having in Afghanistan are very different than the Soviets, when everyone there was against them," says Stanley Bedlington, a former CIA counterterrorism official.
If the good news is that many Afghans are allied with the US, the bad news is that Al Qaeda could gradually glean more local support: The longer the US stays, the more likely it is to be seen as another occupier. Four Afghan Islamic factions are, according to several Afghan military sources, trying to unite to launch attacks on the Afghan government and US forces in the spring. In the countryside, Islamists have been spreading the word that "communists" are trying to take over the nation.
"They cannot get to the people in the name of 'let's fight America,' because they know that the Americans saved them from the Taliban, so instead they are saying 'let's fight communism,' " says Malik Jan. "Later on, they say it's the Americans."
An added and equally troubling danger is the possibility of help coming from abroad. "There are reports that there are recruits coming in from outside to fight in Afghanistan," Mr. Bedlington says. "They have lots of support in the Islamic world, and you could have lots of people inside Afghanistan joining that effort. It seems to be moving into a proper guerrilla war."