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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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However, the Taliban also have adopted new and deadly tactics such as recruiting pupils from madrassas — Islamic schools — for suicide bombings.

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Recruiters observe the students and "see who's the more emotional," Mojdeh said. They also seek volunteers from among those who've lost family members to U.S. or Afghan government attacks.

They "work on them and train them and give them a suicide belt — a fake one. If they don't show fear, they give them a real one," Mojdeh said. The suicide attackers say goodbye to their families, "and then they disappear."

The Afghan National Directorate for Security estimates that there are at least 1,000 mobile insurgent training centers in Pakistan's seven tribal agencies — lawless zones beyond the writ of the central government — most in the guise of religious education centers.

To a great extent, though, the Taliban remain motivated by revenge. The massacre in 2001 of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban detainees at the hands of an Uzbek warlord in northern Afghanistan still motivates Taliban to fight.

"That massacre was the base or foundation for all the fighting that is now going on," Mojdeh said.

The senior ISAF general agreed that the massacre was "absolutely" a recruiting tool for the Taliban. "Those kinds of things thicken the hatred and cause more people to join."

Last July, the U.S. military obtained a copy of the new code of conduct issued by Omar, with instructions to protect civilians and spare the lives of prisoners. It came on the heels of a tactical directive by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, that said the aim of American troops was to protect the Afghan population, not to kill Taliban.

Unlike the U.S. directive, however, which reduced the number of civilian deaths last year by 28 percent from 2008, there's little sign that the Taliban are implementing Omar's code, which says that Taliban suicide attacks should be carried out against "major" targets and "utmost steps" taken to avoid civilian casualties.

A U.N. report in January said the Taliban were responsible for 70 percent of the 2,142 civilian killings in 2009, up some 50 percent from the previous year. That included 1,054 victims of suicide bombings and IEDs and 225 victims of targeted assassinations and executions.


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