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Taliban appears to be regrouped and well-funded

A new hierarchy of leaders has emerged across parts of Afghanistan.

By Scott Baldauf, Owais Tohid / May 8, 2003



KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

As the fiery chief justice of the Taliban's Supreme Court, Abdul Salam shook the world once, proclaiming the right to execute foreign aid workers accused of converting Afghans to Christianity.

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Today, not only is Justice Salam back, talking to a foreign reporter for the first time since the Taliban fell a year and a half ago, but he says the Taliban are back as well. Regrouped, rearmed, and well-funded, they are ready to carry on guerrilla war as long as it takes to expel US forces from Afghanistan.

It's what Afghans want, "because during the Taliban times, there was peace and security," says Salam, who retains the long gray beard that marks him as a devout Muslim.

Across the southern portions of Afghanistan, where the Taliban found strong support among the rural conservative Pashtun populations, there are definite signs that the Taliban are making a comeback. Some Taliban leaders, such as Salam and Taliban commander Mullah Muhammad Hasan Rehmani, are giving interviews once again. Others are dropping leaflets, calling for a jihad against US forces and against the new Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. Still others are increasingly willing to discuss the secret hierarchy that is directing this jihad and the sources of funding that keep it running.

It's this confidence that undercuts recent assertions by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that major combat operations in Afghanistan are over, and that the focus will now be on reconstruction. "The general idea that was being put forward by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld last week, is that the Afghan military, backed by US forces, is engaged in mopping up some remnants of the past - that is not true," says Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan at New York University. "They [the Taliban] are now organizing for a new offensive, and they are still getting some support from Pakistan. Even if Pakistan is not cooperating directly, it is not cooperating in efforts to end the support that is coming from Pakistani territory."

The reorganized Taliban are mounting increasingly brazen attacks on Afghan soil. In Zabul Province last month, for instance, Taliban forces took control of two remote districts near the Pakistani border for nearly a week. Afghan military forces, backed up by US Special Forces and helicopter gunships, eventually dislodged the Taliban fighters.

New hierarchy emerges

Taliban sources in Pakistan and Afghan intelligence sources say that the Taliban now has a recognizable hierarchy of leaders - some operating from Afghanistan and some from the Pashtun tribal areas of Pakistan's volatile Northwest Frontier Province.

At the top of the military command structure is Mullah Beradar, who hails from Deh Rawood in Urozgan, the home village of former supreme Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Underneath Mullah Beradar are a number of Taliban commanders and religious leaders assigned to different territories.

The most active region - from Nimroz Province to Helmand, on up to Kandahar, Zabul, and north to Urozgan - is under the joint control of Beradar's top three deputies. Akhtar Usmani was the Taliban corps commander in Kandahar. Mullah Abdur Razzaq was the Taliban Interior Minister. And Mullah Dadullah was the military chief in the northern city of Kunduz, on the front lines against the Northern Alliance when the Taliban lines crumbled.

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