Afghanistan war: How Taliban tactics are evolving
Often portrayed as mindless fanatics, the sophistication of Taliban military tactics in the Afghanistan war have impressed US military officials.
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The Taliban "have totally changed," said Vahid Mojdeh, a former Taliban foreign ministry official who monitors the movement. "They've totally put behind them their international agenda" of spreading Islamist revolution "and now are just focused on Afghanistan."Skip to next paragraph
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Although Western and Afghan experts acknowledge that Omar, the one-eyed cleric, is the group's supreme leader, many Taliban innovations for controlling territory are probably of local origin.
Take, for example, an order to shut down cell phone communications after about 4 p.m. every day in four southern Afghan provinces. Taliban commanders approached the four commercial cell-phone companies in the area and told them to halt service or their towers would be blown up.
According to Mojdeh, the move is part of a Taliban effort to prevent spies from communicating Taliban positions to Afghan government officials.
However, it's also "to make sure they can get a good night's rest," the senior ISAF general said.
The Taliban also must communicate with one another, however, and their devices — VHF radio-relay networks that use hundreds of small antennas linked to big solar panels — have impressed Western militaries. The basic equipment is bought off the shelf in Pakistan or stolen from NATO trucks and assembled in the field.
"It's extremely sophisticated," the general, who couldn't be identified under the terms of the briefing, told McClatchy. On the other hand, he said, Taliban codes are "pretty easy to break."
Taliban policies also have become somewhat more sophisticated. Mojdeh said that in the past year, the insurgents had stopped burning down schools, and they no longer oppose vaccination campaigns for children or health clinics.
"There's a new generation. They are familiar with computers. They communicate with text messages. They're in favor of education," he told McClatchy. Unlike the Taliban of the 1990s, he said, "They are no longer all illiterates."
Drawing on insurgent tactics from the war in Iraq, the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, Pakistani trainers and al Qaida operatives, the Taliban have developed a plan for civilian governance of regions they control, appointing a governor — usually from another region, to avoid local tribal rivalries — a military commander, a financial official in charge and a judge.
Haroun Mir, the director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies, who fought against the Taliban in the 1990s, said the insurgents had taken a leaf from their former archenemy, the late Afghan guerrilla leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was an ethnic Tajik, unlike the mostly Pashtun Taliban.
The Taliban "previously never let anyone in (Massoud's) movement have influence," but now they're accepting ideas from below, Mir said. "I wonder if the traditional Taliban are still in control?" he asked.
He said the Taliban's new emphasis on justice paralleled Massoud's concern that people behind the front lines "should feel secure," he said. Mir also said that the principal slogan that Omar used today "is to expel the infidels, the same slogan we used against the Russians," but now meaning U.S. and European forces.