Taliban's Iraq-style spring is sprungKARACHI - As another spring approaches in Afghanistan, another Taliban-led offensive is planned. But this year, the Taliban believe, unlike in the previous offensives in the five years since they were booted out of power in Kabul, they are better organized than ever before.
A key to the Taliban's revival has been the links it has forged with the resistance in Iraq, which has provided hundreds of Taliban with hands-on training in that country, as well as logistical and tactical support.
One such support device is a compact disc released by the Jaishul Islam al-Iraq (Islamic Army of Iraq) that shows how urban guerrilla warfare is being conducted in Iraq and how this can be adapted to the resistance in Afghanistan. The CD, a copy of which has been obtained by Asia Times Online, is widely circulated among the rank and file of the Taliban.
The Jaishul Islam al-Iraq is an indigenous group commanded by many former top Iraqi generals and independent Islamists, and the CD therefore shows the very refined quality of their attacks. The group fully coordinates its activities with other groups, such as Ansarul Sunna, and it also has good ties with al-Qaeda.
The CD contains 10 separate clips, each one showing a significant aspect of Jaishul's strategy. These include:
One of the clips shows two vehicles seconds before one of them, laden with explosives, rams into a US armored vehicle. The other truck, which has been monitoring the progress of the target, can be seen frantically reversing from the scene.
Another clip shows guerrillas taking up positions near a spot used by a US helicopter carrying soldiers. As the chopper takes off, it is hit by a missile and crashes. Several soldiers can be seen burned in the wreckage, while one who survives can be seen pleading, in English, for his life. The response is a hail of bullets that kill him.
Other footage shows an attack on the US base of Tal Afar. The resistance, with the help of collaborators within the Iraqi forces, has planted explosives in the camp, which can be seen going off. In one picture, US soldiers watch the first explosion. In the next second, their building is blown up.
As a background to the images, Koranic verses are recited, as well as resistance songs in Arabic, such as "We will defend our land with full vigor."
The spring is sprung
Asia Times Online has learned that as many as 500 fighters who trained in Iraq are now in Afghanistan or Pakistan, while many others are expected to return soon.
The Taliban's connection with Iraq began before the US-led attack there in 2003 when Taliban leader Mullah Omar sent some of his men to stay with the Ansarul Islam, a Kurdish Islamic group in northern Iraq, to train and fight alongside Kurdish guerrillas against Saddam Hussein's forces. After the US invasion, many of these men went to other parts of the country to fight alongside various groups opposed to the US forces.
In 2003, one of the Taliban commanders who had been sent to Iraq, Mullah Mehmood Allah Haq Yar, returned to Afghanistan, where he rejected the traditional style of guerrilla warfare in operation since the anti-Soviet resistance of the 1980s - heavy reliance on AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades.
The first thing he taught the Taliban was the formation of groups that could fight independently and which would be task-orientated to specific missions. Many of these small groups were sent regularly to Iraq between 2004 and 2005, where they spent months with the Jaishul Islam al-Iraq, the Ansarul Sunna and other Islamic groups.
In return, these men passed on their new-found expertise to comrades in Pakistan's tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan, notably North and South Waziristan, the former being a veritable Taliban stronghold, the latter heading that way. And significantly, a la Iraq, they have organized scores of suicide squads, a relatively new phenomenon in Afghanistan.
Taking on Pakistan
In the first phase of their spring offensive, the Taliban aim to contain the Pakistani army by engaging it throughout the tribal belt. This will allow the Taliban freely to cross the leaky border with Afghanistan, or better, strike a deal with the army to leave the Taliban alone. According to contacts who spoke to Asia Times Online, a blueprint for such attacks in the tribal areas has already been approved by the Taliban's command council.
Within Afghanistan, heavyweights Kashmir Khan of the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan, Mullah Dadullah, Mullah Akhtar Usmani and Sirajul Haq Haqqani, son of former Taliban minister and commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, are already in the field to influence local tribes to support the Taliban movement.
Shabname , or "night messages", contained in pamphlets are being distributed asking people to revolt against foreign forces, which, the pamphlets say, are made up of people from countries where caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed have been published and his personality ridiculed.
Independent analysts believe that the Taliban, even with training, will be unlikely to achieve anything like the level of warfare being waged by the Iraqi resistance, which has a strong element of hardened professional soldiers.
Nevertheless, the Afghan resistance will be sufficiently competent and equipped and big enough to remain a serious threat to US and allied troops, and even force a rethink on their part.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online. He can be reached at [email protected].