Bid to split Taliban, Al Qaeda
In Afghanistan, US and NATO reassess their strategy amid concerns that their efforts are failing.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
In response, prominent Al Qaeda websites posted messages denouncing the "nationalist trend" and pro-Iranian orientation in the Taliban's communiqués.
The effort to widen such possible divisions may include so-called psychological operations. According to intelligence officers, international forces and the Afghan government plant fake e-mails on jihadi websites or circulate bogus letters in the insurgent community.
For instance, a few months ago, there appeared a letter signed by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who heads an insurgent network that is independent of Mullah Omar's Taliban and very closely aligned with Al Qaeda. The letter denounced Mr. Omar as "ineffective, ignorant, and illiterate" and appealed to insurgents to follow Mr. Haqqani. Intelligence agents with the international forces suggest that the letter originated from the Afghan government or its allies as an attempt to inflame tensions between insurgent groups.
Some insurgent commanders might be more amenable to negotiations than others. The US government is also backing talks between Afghan officials and former Taliban figures. A first set of meetings was held in the fall in Mecca, under the auspices of the Saudi king. Although many attending the meeting were low-ranking former Taliban officials or people who have fallen out of favor with the current insurgent leadership, observers say that Kabul may be hoping to use these talks as a starting point for future direct negotiations with senior leadership.