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In Afghanistan, Taliban rise where Kabul falters

With tough tactics and promises of security, it aims to position itself as a stronger brand of government.

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The Taliban have increased their efforts – largely seen by experts as propaganda – to present themselves as an effective alternative to the government and as more open-minded than many Afghans remember.

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During the Taliban regime "there were some people who joined the Taliban who did not represent the group's real Islamic values. We've since removed these people from our organization," says a member of the Taliban in Nangarhar who asked for anonymity. "Now that we've purged these bad men, people want us to take control of their areas again."

Though the former Taliban regime that held power from 1996 until late 2001 was strongly criticized for its treatment of women, he says that they plan to guarantee the rights of women and ensure that they are able to attend schools if they regain control. It was only a shortage of finances and resources that prevented this in the past, says the Taliban member.

The Taliban's ability to contain crime is a key attraction. "Most people support the Taliban because it is capable of providing security," says Abdullah, a self-described Taliban supporter who runs a religious school in Nangarhar. "With the current government, if Karzai gives an order, no one will follow it, but if Mullah Omar gives an order, everyone in the Taliban follows it."

Still, the question remains whether this more robust Taliban foothold and makeover translates into a real strategic gain for the group. With international forces putting pressure on insurgent strongholds, especially in the south, a number of fighters have fled to provinces like Nangarhar, Baghlan, and Kunduz that receive less attention from local and international security forces. "The insurgency will go where there's the least amount of resistance," says a senior intelligence official with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Gen. David Petraeus also acknowledged this problem in an interview with ABC on Monday, saying that success by 2014 is not a "sure thing" and pursuing such an elusive enemy will take a "sustained, substantial commitment."

But both ISAF and Afghan security officials agree that there's a big difference between burning down a few shops or sending threatening letters and actually taking control.

Afghan Police Lt. Gen. Mohammed Ayub Salangy says he worries about their increased presence. "The police force isn't structured to fight terrorism and we need more policemen," he says.

Still, he adds, when the Taliban was in control of the government it was widely unpopular here, so he doubts it will be able to win the support of residents now.

IN PICTURES: Winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan

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