Bid to split Taliban, Al Qaeda
In Afghanistan, US and NATO reassess their strategy amid concerns that their efforts are failing.
The Afghan government and its allies are reconciling with moderates and isolating hard-liners in a bid to split the insurgency, Western and Afghan officials say.Skip to next paragraph
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The idea of wooing moderates has gained traction as violence in Afghanistan has reached record levels this year. The United States and NATO are reassessing their strategy amid a growing chorus of Western officials who say that the international effort here is failing.
"Some ministries have started a program to try to separate Al Qaeda and the Taliban," says Ursala Rahmani, a former Taliban official who has been involved in talks with the government. Mr. Rahmani says that the Interior and Defense ministries are involved in the effort.
"We are trying to exploit the natural tensions that exist between Al Qaeda and those under Mullah Omar," the fugitive leader of the Taliban, adds a senior intelligence officer with the international forces, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Some insurgent commanders may be closely aligned with Al Qaeda, which is waging an international, ideologically driven war against the West.
But Afghanistan experts say that most Afghan insurgents fight because of local grievances, including tribal rivalries, poor economic opportunities, and dissatisfaction with the Afghan government and international forces. Many experts say these insurgents have little interest in attacking sites in the West and restrict their concerns to Afghanistan.
Western officials dub these fighters "moderates," even though many of them are just as religiously conservative as their Al Qaeda counterparts.
"Over the long term, I see reconciliation as one of the primary actions that will have to occur for there to be success," says Carter Malkasian, who directs the Stability and Development program at CNA, a Washington-based think tank.
Such reconciliation is a key ingredient in the kind of counterinsurgency strategy militaries have used for decades, including in Iraq. The strategy may take two approaches. First, it will focus on the low-ranking insurgent fighters who may be easier to reconcile with the government.
"We tend to talk about the Taliban, but there is 'big T' Taliban, that is Mullah Omar and the [others] who ... swept through the country in the mid-'90s," says Eric Edelman, the Pentagon's senior policy official, told reporters in Washington recently. "There is what I call the 'small-T' Taliban, which are Pashtun tribals who are not reconciled to the government and may be engaging in ... activity kind of opportunistically."
According to officials at the Afghan Social Outreach Program, part of an Afghan government initiative to strengthen local governance, a new body is being formed to reconcile such fighters with the government that will use the promise of government jobs and cash inducements. This body will replace an already existing government organization that many say is corrupt and ineffective.
The second approach will be to zsow divisions in the insurgency's leadership and isolate elements close to Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda and the Taliban have differing strategies: Al Qaeda's policy of global warfare has brought it into confrontation with the Pakistani government, while the Afghan Taliban are on good terms with Islamabad and restrict its fight to Afghanistan.
"Al Qaeda's activities draw Pakistani military action, and this leads to natural tensions between them and the [Afghan] Taliban," says the senior intelligence officer with the international forces.
There is evidence that such tensions have existed for some months. In February, Mullah Omar issued a statement saying, "We want to have legitimate relations with all countries in the world," and expressing solidarity with Iran, a Shiite country viewed by the Sunni-extremist Al Qaeda as an enemy. The statement also indicated that the Taliban's main purpose was to fight within Afghan borders.