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 , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

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.

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."

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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."

The Taliban began planning its comeback last year in a Kandahar safe house. There, 70 or so "trusted" Taliban men attended a secret meeting around midnight, according to sources in the militia, where the one-legged Mullah Dadullah administered an oath and assigned duties. Malang, along with nine other men trained in Al-Qaeda camps, were appointed as commanders of the new Taliban guerrilla force.

Their Al Qaeda-style regimen calls for 40 days of physical and spiritual training. The leaders lecture the young fighters on the need for jihad, while training them in handling rockets, grenades, and remote-control devices.

"We keep on changing the places, and the training process continues while we are on the move," says Malang. The militants transport disassembled weapons via mule, donkey cart, and itinerant gypsy. "We get dollars from Arabs once we run out of funds, then Afghan currency from the local community leaders," says Malang.

New recruits are primarily drawn from Pashtun Afghans between the ages of 18 and 30. Some are picked from Pakistani madrassahs in the tribal areas of Baluchistan and the frontier provinces, where Pakistani extremists have recently introduced a Taliban-style Islamic system.

Motivated by revenge

Abdur Razzaq recently joined the resurgent Taliban after his father, Mullah Rehman, was killed by US and Afghan forces. "My father's colleagues appealed to me to follow my father's footsteps since he was killed by infidels," says the new recruit, who studied at a madrassah in Quetta, Pakistan. He is now being trained in mobile camps near Kandahar.

"We are taught to make explosives in case we run out of weapons," Razzaq says. Molotov cocktails are made by filling glass jars with a mixture of lime and iron scraps. "We hurl the jars at checkposts in the dark," he says.

Another Taliban strategy is to attach explosives to live dogs and donkeys and then turn them loose near coalition checkpoints. When the animal is close enough, the explosives are detonated by remote control.

The renewed activity of the Taliban is a worrisome development, according to Shahnawaz Tanai, a former communist Afghan general now living in exile in Pakistan.

"It is a dangerous situation in Afghanistan right now. But the Taliban's guerrilla warfare lacks coordination and it seems unlikely that they can take Kabul again," says Mr. Tanai.

The forces of former Afghan commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who now heads Hizb-i Islami, add an additional destabilizing agent. While the Taliban are making inroads in the south, Mr. Hekmatyar's forces are fighting US forces in eastern Nangarhar and Kunar provinces.

Both groups are financially assisted by Al Qaeda through extremist groups in Pakistan, says an Afghan intelligence official, adding, "some elements within Pakistan's security agencies are turning a blind eye."

"Peace and security in Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan," says Pakistan's interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat. "If there is violence, then we fear the spillover." Pakistan is investigating a possible link between the Kabul bombing and a suicide attack in Pakistan last year that killed 11 French engineers and three others.

Malang, meanwhile, counts the days until he can return to the guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan. "Pray for my wife's death so I get liberated from worldly affairs and have no burden on my mind in the battlefield," he says. "I have pledged to sacrifice my life and go to heaven as a jihadi."

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