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Taliban regroups - on the road

Mobile Taliban training camps along Afghan border provinces point to a coordinated effort with other groups like Al Qaeda.

By Owais TohidSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / June 27, 2003



TRIBAL AREAS, PAKISTAN

Mullah Malang, a senior Taliban warrior, is impatiently waiting for his ill wife to die. His presence, he says, is needed in southern Afghanistan. Mr. Malang's Taliban superiors have assigned him to help set up mobile training camps for fledgling fighters in the increasingly lawless border provinces.

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With their ranks routed and camps destroyed by American forces, the resurgent Taliban have taken to the road to train the next generation - including instruction in the suicide tactics that Afghans have historically shunned. The effort comes amid signs of coordination between the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the powerful guerrilla group Hizb-i Islami.

"We cannot train in the open fields and on the hills as in the past, so we are continuing our training programs literally in hiding - to defeat the Americans," says the bearded Mr. Malang. "We are like rabbits, and around us are lions."

In an interview at an undisclosed location near Miranshah, Pakistan, Malang describes the shadowy regrouping of the Taliban, and explains his role as a trainer.

Malang says he instructs between five and eight recruits at a time - larger numbers might attract US attention. Staying no more than three days in any one place, the small groups train in the use of weapons and guerrilla tactics. The new strategy, he says, was adopted a few months ago "on the instructions of our experienced Arab brothers."

Trouble for the US

All this spells trouble for the US, say observers. "The Taliban are adopting new and deadly strategies," says Peshawar-based analyst, Mohammad Riaz. "Weaknesses of the Hamid Karzai government, and ill-conceived plans of the Americans are becoming the strength of the Taliban. The Taliban are still showing their presence on the map of Afghanistan."

Taliban sources say their presence in southern Afghanistan now includes more than 1,000 fighters under the command of former intelligence chief Mullah Dadullah. According to Malang, mobile training camps are operating in Kandahar, Uruzgan, Helmand, and other former strongholds of the Islamic militia, where there has been a recent upsurge in violence. American-led troops, meanwhile, are running search-and-kill operations on the tail of attacks by suspected Taliban fighters.

Observers say the Taliban are trying to undermine the central government's authority by creating obstacles to major reconstruction projects in the south, an area many Western aid workers have fled, fearful for their lives.

"We are caging Karzai in Kabul, frustrating American forces in surrounding [areas], and [working to foment] revolt with the help of the Pashtun population," says Malang.

Local border-town residents say leaflets announcing the formation of suicide squads to attack US forces were distributed in Afghanistan. In the first attack, a car bomb was detonated in Kabul on June 7, killing four German peacekeepers.

Malang attributes the attack to Arabs and Uzbeks. Reports at the time suggested it was a coordinated effort by the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Hizb-i Islami. Until now, suicide missions in Afghanistan have been the province of foreigners.

"Almost a month ago, we received orders from [former Afghan leader] Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden to prepare ourselves for suicide attacks against Americans," says Malang. He quotes the orders as saying, "Don't hesitate to sacrifice life in the name of Allah. Carry out suicide attacks whenever there is a crowd of foreigners or their puppets."

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