In search of the Taliban's missing link

Posted in Terrorism | 22-Sep-06 | Author: Syed Saleem Shahzad| Source: Asia Times

NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.
KARACHI - Despite spending many millions of dollars, US intelligence, five years after the ouster of the Taliban from Kabul, remains in the dark over the command structure of the Taliban.

The Taliban have a tight high command from where - and this is the mystery - precise orders, such as targets, are relayed to the fighters in the field. Cracking this code is key to putting a brake on the insurgency that gathers strength by the day.

When the Taliban's spring offensive began in June, the US-led coalition's intelligence identified the people in the Taliban's command council and their usual modus operandi and location in the guerrilla war.

All coalition tactics were based on this information, such as search operations, troop postings, logistics and arms allocations. The primary aim was to net Taliban leader Mullah Omar and close aides, such as Maualana Jalaluddin Haqqani, Mullah Dadullah and Mullah Gul Mohammed Jangvi.

Months later, these men have not even come close to being captured. That leaves the questions unanswered: How (and from where) do they manage to relay their instructions into the battlefield? Asia Times Online has learned that this year alone, international intelligence operations in Afghanistan have spent millions of dollars trying to find out, even as fighting in the past month has been the heaviest ever.

Significantly, the Taliban are now drawing increasing support from the Afghan population. These additional numbers have allowed them for the first time to conduct their own large-scale search operations against NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) troops in the south.

As a result, NATO this week requested additional troops, with no success. The alliance, which took command of military operations in southern Afghanistan on July 31, had wanted 2,000 extra soldiers to reinforce the 19,000-strong International Security Assistance Force.

Throwing more troops into a conventional battle (artillery and air strikes especially) might not be the best way to go as long as there remains a basic lack of understanding of where the enemy's command center is and how the mujahideen receive orders. What is known is that among the rank and file of the mujahideen there is a strong system of communication, with instructions flowing freely and quickly.

And despite claims by coalition forces to the contrary, the Taliban are not obsessed with taking control of provinces or districts. They abandoned that tactic at the end of July, and a lull in fighting followed.

Since then, the new policy has been that the local population join in the fight against NATO, especially hunting down its convoys.

What is worth noting is that what is happening in Afghanistan has happened before, against the British many years ago and against the Soviets more recently. This latest battle against a foreign invader is being fought as a classic Afghan war, although the sequence of events is somewhat different.

In the past, resistance leaders migrated to neighboring states early in the campaign. This time it is happening much later. Previously, command councils were formed at the end, and the mass mutiny started earlier. This time it is the other way around.

Of one thing the Taliban are convinced, blindly some might say: Afghan tradition dictates that foreign forces will be resisted to the last. Further, the Taliban believe that by the end of the spring offensive, Mullah Omar will again declare himself head of the Islamic Emirate of Taliban for a final battle against the foreigners.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at