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Afghan Taliban hone hit-and-run tactics, assassination campaign

The Afghan Taliban is waging an assassination campaign against government officials in Kandahar. Their hit-and-run fight marks bid to draw NATO forces into a war of attrition.

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And in line with the assassination campaign they are waging against government officials in Kandahar City, the insurgents are also intimidating villagers. At the start of May, two gunmen murdered a respected elder named Haji Abdullah Jan, emptying their Kalashnikovs into his body as he exited a village mosque.

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His mistake: to miss a meeting called by the Taliban because he was attending his niece's wedding. In the ensuing confrontation, villagers demanded the insurgents hand over the murderers, but to no avail.

"They were very angry when he was killed," a friend of Mr. Jan's said. Interviewed in Kandahar City, he spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being singled out by the Taliban. "His relatives [asked the Taliban] to find the people who killed him and the Taliban told them: 'They were not Taliban, they were thieves.' Everyone knows it was the Taliban. His family knows exactly who did it."

Days later, gunmen killed another elder for daring to discuss irrigation issues with the provincial government. The Americans claim the killings have made many villagers staunchly pro-government, but "We are scared of both sides," Jan's friend confided.

Some villagers say that local Taliban commanders are sympathetic to the civilians in the area and try to mediate with the outsiders, who have little regard for petty farmers they have never met. But they lack the clout to stand up to them.

Winning over the populace

With a mission to secure the population and legitimize the Afghan government, and with the focus of the summer's campaign falling on Kandahar City, NATO commanders say they will not get bogged down in Kandahar's backwaters, where the population is sparse and the benefits of a protracted fight are few.

Britain's Maj. Gen. Nick Cart­er, the top commander in southeastern Af­ghan­istan, said improving governance in built-up areas would enable NATO to outflank the Taliban by "trying to get inside the population's mind," where the inducements the government can offer may sideline the insurgents.

"We're not in the business of conducting an attritional campaign," Carter says. "[The] business we're doing here is about bringing people into the tent and using the full range of political levers to achieve that effect. So we will not be going head-to-head with insurgents in vineyards and orchards.

"What we will be doing will be a rather more sophisticated approach that plays to the enemy's weaknesses" – in other words, the inclusive politics and economic development NATO wants the Afghan government to deliver.

Reim says the real achievement is simply being there.

"We went into an area that had never been controlled before, that would take fire every day, and we beat that off," he says. "We're in a place that really upsets the Taliban. It drives them crazy that we're sitting where we are."

Related:

On the eve of a NATO offensive against Kandahar City, Taliban fighters are intimidating villagers and using more sophisticated tactics to try to bog down troops in a war of attrition. NATO's focus is on securing population centers and delivering services.

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