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Taliban adopting Iraq-style jihad

A Taliban militant warns that his movement is more sophisticated – and more brutal – than before.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 13, 2006


Even in near-total darkness, the wounded Taliban fighter insists on masking his identity, his head and face covered by a tightly wound white cloth. Only two bright eyes and a confident voice tell how Afghanistan's Islamist militants are ramping up their fight against US and NATO forces.

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He speaks a warning, of how the "new" Taliban has become more radical, more sophisticated, and more brutal than the Taliban ousted by US-led forces in 2001 – and of how its jihadist agenda now mirrors that of Al Qaeda, stretching far beyond Afghanistan.

Among the keys to the Taliban resurgence – which is sparking lethal violence on a scale unknown here for almost five years – are crucial lessons drawn from Iraq.

"That's part of our strategy – we are trying to bring [the Iraqi model] to Afghanistan," says the fighter. "Things will get worse here."

Those "things" include suicide attacks, assassinations of government officials, moderate clerics, and civilians, along with guerrilla tactics now in use against Western forces in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where NATO claims to have killed more than 500 insurgents in 10 days of intense fighting.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, speaking in Brussels Tuesday, said the Taliban now pose a greater danger than Al Qaeda. "The center of gravity of terrorism has shifted from al Qaeda to the Taliban," he told European lawmakers."

"This is a new element, a more dangerous element, because it [the Taliban] has its roots in the people. Al Qaeda didn't have roots in the people," he said.

On Tuesday, Afghan police said that they had arrested more than 30 people suspected of planning attacks; the US military reported detaining eight others.

"The Taliban have tried their best to avoid murdering civilians, but they finally found if they don't get active, they will lose this opportunity" to attack "infidel" Western troops, says the fighter. "Now you are seeing explosions everywhere."

Among the most recent suicide attacks was one near the US Embassy last Friday, killing two US soldiers and 14 Afghans.

"I'm very happy about the murder of the Americans, though I am a little bit sad about the death of the Afghans – but this is wartime," says the fighter matter-of-factly. Such deaths, he says, are "inevitable," even if they cause a popular backlash.

"The shift has taken place," warns Hekmat Karzai, head of the Center for Conflict and Peace Studies (CAPS) in Kabul, which analyzes terrorism trends. The Taliban still have local concerns, he says, but embrace global jihad as never before and believe in encouraging a "clash of civilizations."

"Taliban commanders talk of jihad in Fallujah in the same terms they speak of jihad in [the eastern Afghan province of] Kunar," says Mr. Karzai. "They think: 'Just as they are battling there, we are battling here.' "

Figures tabulated by CAPS indicate a recent 60 percent increase in attacks across Afghanistan, from 85 in July to 136 in August. Police have borne the brunt, with deaths jumping more than fourfold in that period. Civilian deaths have tripled, with 92 losing their lives in August.

"The world is small now, and just as McDonald's is being globalized ... so can violence be transmitted from one place to another," says Waheed Mozhdah, a Taliban-era Foreign Affairs Ministry official, and author on the Taliban.

"The tactics have been imported from Iraq: suicide bombers, remote-controlled roadside bombs," says Mr. Mozhdah. "These things we didn't have in the [past] jihad, and they have been very effective...."

Other tactics have also changed. Prior to 2001, the Taliban would take on the Northern Alliance by charging through their front lines – despite high casualties from mines. Today, they use more guerrilla-style strikes.

Another factor chills many Afghans. "[The Taliban] have become more violent. They slaughter people, beheading them, and this didn't exist before," says Mozhdah. "They used to regard video cameras as haram [forbidden by religion], but now they use these videos as a tool. It shows how Al Qaeda has affected the Taliban."