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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In response, prominent Al Qaeda websites posted messages denouncing the "nationalist trend" and pro-Iranian orientation in the Taliban's communiqués.Skip to next paragraph
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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.
Some who attended the Mecca meetings say that future meetings are being planned in places like Dubai, and both sides are looking into meeting regularly in the coming months.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who heads an insurgent network allied with the Taliban, may not be fighting for purely nationalist or other ideological reasons.
"Hekmatyar's main concern is power, and he will do whatever it takes to get it back," says Waliullah Rahmani of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies, an independent think tank. Mr. Hekmatyar was one of the few warlords not offered a position in the post-Taliban government.
In the spring, Hekmatyar sent a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, stating, "I have dedicated my whole life to struggle, but I am old." The letter goes on to imply that Mr. Karzai should remove all foreign troops from urban centers. A similar message was sent in October.
According to Waheed Muzhda, a former Taliban official who has seen one of the letters and is familiar with the negotiation process, Hekmatyar may be interested in a senior government post.
Splitting the insurgency, however, may prove difficult. "Many of the Taliban's financial resources come from Al Qaeda," says analyst Mr. Rahmani. The Taliban may also lack sufficient incentive to split from Al Qaeda or negotiate with the Afghan government as long as they feel they are winning the war and their havens in Pakistan are not threatened.
"Omar and his followers have nothing to lose and everything to gain if they can hold out long enough for foreign forces to withdraw," says Matthew DuPee, a researcher with the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
But if the US can weaken the insurgency, it could force splits in insurgents' ranks. "If you achieve a measure of military success, then you are in a position to negotiate with the warlords," says Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The US must also offer incentives, such as more autonomy on the local level and more resources, he adds.
"If your end game is negotiated settlement, then you need both sticks and carrots," he says.
• Gordon Lubold contributed from Washington.