Afghanistan: February 21, 2004


Over 100 armed Taliban have gathered in a remote mountainous region in southeastern Afghanistan, sparking fears of an imminent attack in the area. These remnants of the ousted Taliban regime that have gathered in Zabul province are believed to be led by Mullah Qahar and Mullah Ghafar (well-known Taliban commanders in the region). The Islamic terrorists appear to be preparing attacks ahead of elections scheduled for this summer. 

Over the last few months, there have been attacks in this region against US-led coalition and Afghan forces, as well as aid workers and civilians. Zalmay Khalizad, America's Afghan-born ambassador to Kabul claimed that Taliban, Al Qaeda and henchmen of Afghanistan's former defense minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar continued to cross over into Afghanistan from Pakistan. 

While local pro-government leaders are worried that any one of their garrisons could be overwhelmed, American military spokesmen welcomed the idea any gathering Taliban. US and coalition actions have forced terrorist groups operating there to change their strategies. So coalition forces continue to adapt their tactical approach in response. 

The commander of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, Army LTG David Barno, noted that Taliban forces used to attack coalition elements in large numbers until they realized that would get them slaughtered in large numbers. Realizing that they can't effectively attack coalition military forces, the terrorists switched their attacks on soft targets (nongovernmental aid organizations) while using smaller numbers of fighters.

To combat this change in tactics, over the last three months small coalition units (from battalions down to platoons) were sent into disputed areas for long-term stays. There they operate continuously, maintaining and developing relations with the tribal elders, mullahs and local government officials.

They also are working hand in hand with the coalition provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) now going into those areas. Striking a balance between combating remaining terrorists in the country and "aggressively enabling reconstruction", the PRTs are providing security for areas outside of Kabul and helping to accelerate reconstruction projects in the provinces while extending the reach of the Afghan central government. There are 11 PRTs are operating in Afghanistan (eight of them staffed by the US), with a 12th becoming active this week. 

Now the coalition units ultimately get a greater depth of knowledge, understanding and much better intelligence access to the local people in those areas "owning" those chunks of territory." Better cooperation with Pakistani forces is also leading to increased security in Afghanistan. Pakistani military and paramilitary troops are supposed to drive terrorist forces out of Pakistan's frontier territories and over the Afghan border, where coalition and Afghan national military forces are waiting for them. - Adam Geibel


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