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Taliban Regrouping in Afghanistan--2 U.S. Soldiers Killed

Backed by new volunteers from Pakistan, the Taliban are regrouping and expanding their attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan, their former stronghold, according to Afghan officials, Western diplomats and captured fighters.

The fighting has heated up since mid-August, particularly in Zabul Province and other parts of the southeast. Two American soldiers were killed on Sunday in a 90-minute battle in neighboring Paktika Province, culminating a week of fighting that was the fiercest in months, the Pentagon said. It said dozens of Taliban were killed, as were nine Afghan soldiers. To date, 35 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action in Afghanistan.
Taliban reported regrouping in Afghanistan

David Rohde/NYT The New York Times
Monday, September 1, 2003

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan The Taliban, backed by new volunteers from Pakistan, are regrouping and expanding their attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan, their former stronghold, according to Afghan officials, Western diplomats and captured fighters.

The fighting has heated up since mid-August, particularly in Zabul Province and other parts of the southeast. Two American soldiers were killed on Sunday in a 90-minute battle in neighboring Paktika Province, culminating a week of fighting that was the fiercest in months, the Pentagon said. It said dozens of Taliban were killed, as were nine Afghan soldiers. To date, 35 U.S. soldiers have been killed in action in Afghanistan.

In the region generally, Western diplomats said, the Taliban have changed their tactics. Not only are U.S. forces being attacked, but so are Afghan police officers, aid workers and midlevel officials. The United Nations reports that attacks on aid workers, most of them Afghans, have "intensified significantly" since May.

The intermittent assaults have made the south and east an unpredictable mosaic of territory that is safe one day and dangerous the next.

As a result, UN officials say that the pace of reconstruction and investment is slowing and that the populace, which is almost all ethnic Pashtun, is becoming more alienated from the government in Kabul and its U.S. backers. The United States ousted the Taliban because of their connections with Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization that led the Sept. 11 attacks.

Westerners active in the area warn of a slow deterioration, though not an immediate collapse.

U.S. military officials agree that the Taliban are becoming more sophisticated in their tactics but are failing to regain power.

"They're trying to reinvigorate and resurrect their movement," said Colonel Pat Donohue, who is about to step down as commander of allied forces in Kandahar, "but they haven't been very successful."

But other Westerners urge the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and the United States to immediately increase aid, security and ties to Pashtun tribes in the area. "There needs to be a political offensive in the south," said a Western diplomat, who warned that the Taliban were trying to destabilize the southeast.

The Bush administration is expected to double reconstruction aid to Afghanistan, and a new U.S. military unit of 120 soldiers is to be established in December in Kandahar to coordinate and provide security for aid projects. But UN officials and aid workers say international peacekeepers now confined to Kabul must also be deployed to the south and other regions.

As the weak central government has failed to extend its writ in isolated parts of the south, Western diplomats say, the Taliban are trying to fill the vacuum. In many districts, the only evidence of government authority is a district leader protected by a small group of poorly paid and ill-equipped police officers. Residents complain of lawlessness and say that while they do not support the Taliban, they miss the strict law and order that the Taliban enforced.

Some of the stepped-up Talib campaign has involved basic propaganda. Messages left in villages and cities play on the lack of aid and a sense among Pashtuns that they are not adequately represented in the new national government. Residents are told that the United States is simply interested in occupying Muslim countries, not in aiding them.

Talib gunmen are also showing a new, uncharacteristic diplomacy, according to reports received by aid groups. On rural roads, gunmen give men who shave their beards or listen to music a brief sermon and send them on their way. In the past, such offenders landed in jail.

The gunmen are "smiling and friendly," said Nick Downie, a security coordinator with the a group that assists nongovernmental organizations.

But Afghans who cooperate with the government or the United States are being killed. Two police chiefs, two pro-government imams, and more than 30 police officers were killed in the south and east in July and August, according to Afghan officials, and an attempt to assassinate the governor of Helmand Province was thwarted last month.

The increased attacks on Afghans coincide with the release in late June of an audiotape said to have been from the Talib leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. The speaker announced the formation of a 10-member leadership council to "expedite jihad against occupation forces" under a new strategy. Western diplomats say the Taliban seem to be using psychological warfare.

"They have a sophisticated strategy of going after local people," a senior Western diplomat said. "The mantra they use is that the Americans and the international community will leave someday, and we will come back."

Attacks are on the rise in Wardak and Logar Provinces, both south of Kabul, where nine policemen were killed in August, according to aid officials.

Because of the danger, the number of aid groups operating in Kandahar, the largest city in the south, has dropped by 50 percent, to a dozen, according to Downie. UN officials say the number has remained constant.

But the attacks have led the United Nations intermittently to bar its staff from entering almost all parts of two provinces in southern Afghanistan, Zabul and Uruzgan, and large parts of six other provinces near the border with Pakistan - Helmand, Kandahar, Paktika, Paktia, Logar and Khost.

Cities like Kandahar remain relatively safe. But aid workers warn that Kandahar, once the Taliban's de facto capital and now a bustling city brimming with construction projects and blaring music, could become an island of security in a sea of needy and religiously conservative villagers.

Donohue, the departing commander in Kandahar, said U.S. forces were seeing different Talib tactics in different areas. In the east in Paktika and Paktia Provinces, up to two dozen Talib fighters, who sometimes include Arabs, boldly ambush U.S. forces. Others detonate remote-controlled bombs and mines under U.S. vehicles.

"We have seen very sophisticated operations up there," Donohue said. Militants there, for example, have been wrapping themselves in blankets in an attempt to avoid American targeting devices that detect objects at night by the heat they throw off, military officials said.

Closer to Kandahar, the Taliban mount fewer attacks on U.S. forces, and focus on Afghans.

Donohue, as well as Afghan officials, said the struggle in the south would be won by aid workers, not soldiers. The problem is how to stabilize the area so the workers can create jobs and gain popular support.

"Those are the guys who are going to win it for us," he said, referring to aid workers. "That's how we're really going to defeat the root causes."

homepage: homepage: http://www.iht.com/articles/108391.html
address: address: The New York Times via The International Herald Tribune

Eyewitness Report on Afghanistan 01.Sep.2003 18:08

Jim Lockhart eagleye@PhilosopherSeed.org

An audio file of Professor Zaher Waha, Lewis and Clark College, recently returned from his native Afghanistan, speaking at a recent Community Action Forum, "the Bush Agenda," which also included Medea Benjamin, recently returned from Iraq. This file, of Zaher Wahab, is about 15 minutes in length.
I'll get Medea up soon, hopefully.


URL 01.Sep.2003 18:12

Jim

Neglected to post the exact URL www.PhilosopherSeed.org/realaudio/zaher.ram