Saturday, December 23, 2006

[taliban] almost ready for spring offensive

Taliban continues here …

The fact remains, though, that while Taliban and NATO forces have confronted each other in various districts, there has been no serious Taliban move for a mass mobilization - as stated, all of the top Taliban commanders are tucked away in the border area with Pakistan, or even in that country.

The Taliban are pledging to share everything with the tribes, including land, power and resources. This process is still ongoing and, according to people close to the Taliban, once it is completed the Taliban will call for a full mobilization of troops and Mullah Omar will go to Baghran to command them personally in the push to Kandahar and ultimately Kabul.

Legendary former Afghan premier and mujahideen Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who operates near the Pakistani side of the Afghan Kunar Valley, has become involved in his own agenda, causing a bone of contention between the Taliban and Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA). Hekmatyar has been considered an important player in the Taliban-led insurgency.

In these circumstances, once an uprising began, Hekmatyar would be in a straight race with Mullah Omar to reach Kabul and seize control of it. Baghran has always been an important hub for the Taliban, serving as a rallying point to mend differences between Tajik commanders and pro-Taliban Pashtun commanders.

After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Baghran remained one of the few strongholds of the Taliban and all top commanders, including Mullah Omar, took refuge in its mountains. Local lore has it that the Taliban leader escaped to the region on a 50cc motorbike. (This correspondent can vouch for the fact that traveling on such a vehicle would be a challenge, given the precipitous passes and rough tracks.)

The Taliban claimed to have killed hundreds of British troops in this engagement, while sustaining minimal casualties themselves. However, NATO's Laity dismissed this as "ridiculous", saying that the International Security Assistance Force acknowledged all deaths. "I think you can readily see that if such an incident did happen, then it could not possibly be hidden in the UK and would have massive political repercussions."

During the 10-year Soviet occupation of Afghanistan starting in 1979, Soviet troops withdrew from Baghran in the early days and never regained a foothold there, and it became the headquarters of the mujahideen. Its isolated and inhospitable terrain makes it a perfect base, and it has many escape routes through the mountain passes.

The grassroots Taliban control is spreading. "Previously, the Americans used to attack us from Ghor province, but now that we have successfully re-established pockets in Ghor, we do not have any threat of attack by land, though the possibility of aerial attacks is still there," said Moulvi Hamidullah, a member of the Taliban shura and a military commander.

The Taliban talk of a new kingdom on Earth. There is a long way to go in villages where people mix earth with their bread to make it go further, don't have schools or hospitals, and have no running water and only mud huts to protect themselves from the numbing cold and stifling heat. Add to this the threat of kidnapping or worse from warlords, the harsh justice of the Taliban, or bombs falling from the sky, and the kingdom is a long way off.

But the battle for the "kingdom" has already begun. Come spring, and Baghran could emerge as the epicenter of a defining struggle in yet another bloody chapter of the country's tortuous history.

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