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Taliban adopting Iraq-style jihad

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

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Indeed, coming from a group that in the late 1990s draped checkpoints with wads of magnetic tape – pulled from video and music cassettes banned by the Taliban – that is quite a change. Recent videos show commanders, including, apparently, the rarely seen fugitive Taliban chief Mullah Omar – directing operations from the front line. In one, Mr. Omar is shown with binoculars, inspecting a small rocket launcher in a bid to counter charges of cowardice from President Hamid Karzai.

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Other footage shows one Afghan suicide bomber after another – as well as at least one Pakistani – making strident statements and collecting chits for their explosives. The clips also list the number of "crusader troops" killed in each attack.

But even by the gruesome standards of global jihad, which include taped beheadings by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, and similar deaths of Russians by Chechen militants, the Taliban footage is brutal.

"The greatest achievement of video like that is to instill fear in the hearts of the population, making them believe that the government and international forces can't protect them," says Karzai of CAPS, who estimates that Taliban material is on 30 percent of an estimated 4,000 jihadi websites. "It is a psychological component that shocks people, who ask: 'They are Afghans. They are Muslims. How can they do that?' "

Karzai says the message is clear: "It is ... telling people: 'This can happen to you.' The consequence is that many people stop working for government institutions. They ask if it is more important to get $200 a month – more like $60 – or to stay alive."

"They are very dangerous, because they think that anyone who is not pro-American should come to them or leave the country," says Idriss Yusefi, an Afghan medical resident whose uncle was a key player in the Taliban's despised "vice and virtue" squads. "They think the people of Kabul are all pro-American, and so [they] can kill them."

The "biggest fear" of youths, says Mr. Yusefi and his friends, is that the Taliban will retake power. Most analysts say the Taliban is still no strategic threat to the fragile government, a view challenged by militants like the wounded fighter.

Schooled in the extreme Deobandi strain of Islam followed by most Talibs, he joined 18 months ago, prompted, he says, when US troops arrested his cleric father from their home in Kandahar after a roadside bomb went off nearby. The father's body was dropped off at the hospital by US forces 10 days later, the militant claims.

"I want two things: revenge and martyrdom. Martyrdom is the hope of every true Muslim," declares the 26-year-old. His mother stopped his two older brothers, the fathers of seven, from joining the Taliban. But she could not stop this son.

"Every jihad fighter has the best morale – you can't compare it to any other type of fighter," he says, tightening his head wrap in the dark. "In this country, there are many religious people and they want a reason to fight for God, for martyrdom. They welcome this opportunity to ... go to Paradise."

While he recovers in Kabul, the militant keeps in contact with Taliban networks, and claims that the NATO figure of more than 500 insurgents killed during "Operation Medusa" in the south is a "total lie." NATO commanders say the sustained fighting has at times been fiercer than in Iraq. The militant says the Taliban grow stronger daily, with support from locals fed-up with insecurity and corruption.

"The Taliban have increased their attacks, because people came and asked for help to bring back justice," he says. "Security was ensured under the Taliban. We will reintroduce sharia law."

Still, he was wounded when local "spies" gave away the location of a safe house during fighting in Panjwayi in Kandahar. Two Americans and two Talibs were killed in the raid.

But the fighter is certain of victory. "It's the will of God," he says, adding there must be a reason he is not yet a martyr. "Maybe God wants me to fight more."