Armed and dangerous: Taliban gear up By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Any resistance movement is generally only as good as the weapons it
uses, and that is something that has bedeviled the poorly-equipped Taliban-led
anti-US forces in Afghanistan for a long time.
The resistance has steadily taken steps, though, to beef up its arsenal to
include modern automatic weapons and ground-to-air missiles. This it has done
in part by forging closer links with the resistance in Iraq, as well as with
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka.
According to intelligence sources who spoke to Asia Times Online, al-Qaeda
concluded that its attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 was a failure, even
though 17 American sailors were killed. As a result, al-Qaeda sent a team to
the LTTE to gain expertise in maritime combat operations. The LTTE, as part of
its longstanding battle against the Sri Lankan government, has developed a
relatively sophisticated maritime wing.
The interaction was brief and inconclusive, and al-Qaeda subsequently rejected
the idea of maritime combat, deciding instead to fight the United States on
land. Nevertheless, the links established between the two groups were to prove
useful in another way.
Pakistani intelligence sources say that al-Qaeda now works with the LTTE to get
weapons, including automatic arms and ground-to-air missiles. The weapons are
paid for in cash, as well as in drugs originating from Afghanistan, according
to the sources. The drugs primarily are sent to Scandinavian countries and
Thailand, the latter being a traditional base from which the LTTE has smuggled
"This is a perfect arrangement as resources are complemented - the Tigers get
ideological support, while regular arms supplies on the other hand go to
al-Qaeda, which ultimately feeds its fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan," said the
"The smuggling channels are the same that the Tamil Tigers have adopted for
years [with international arms cartels]. The latest weapons originate through
arm dealers, as well as those stolen from arms depots and shipped from South
America and Lebanon. They are transferred from ship to ship and sometimes
offloaded at small ports, and from there, using various channels, they reach
the final destination," the source said.
In the firing line
In the mountains and on the plains of Afghanistan, the resistance operates in
several ways, ranging from suicide bombings to attacking convoys and brief
"But an air defense system [ground-to-air missiles] can break the back [of the
enemy] in low-intensity conflicts," a top Pakistani security official told Asia
"The resistance movement in Afghanistan has now acquired that system in bulk.
There are possibilities that some pieces will also have been supplied to Iraq.
As soon as this system comes into full action, drastic results will come," he
After the Taliban retreated in the face of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan
in late 2001, the Afghan resistance was largely scattered. The Taliban did
preserve some heavy weapons, but these could not be easily accessed due to the
strong US military presence, and many caches were seized.
Furthermore, some of the armory, especially missiles, required special storage
facilities to prevent exposure to harsh climatic conditions, but this was not
possible, and the weapons were damaged.
Slowly, as the resistance took firmer root and with the help of money from
foreign Arab fighters who had fled to the tribal areas of South and North
Waziristan in Pakistan, the resistance acquired missiles, guns and ammunition
from the indigenous home-made arms industry at Dara Adam Khel near Peshawar.
However, these arms were of poor quality and simply not good enough to take on
the US-led forces in Afghanistan. For instance, the home-made M16 rifles were
only semi-automatic and the G-3 rifles lacked the original specifications and
accuracy which had made the original version of the weapon popular.
Locally-made rockets did not fly properly and lacked sensors, which made them
all but useless.
Authentic weapons are, of course, expensive. Now the Taliban has solved this
problem by tapping into Afghanistan's - and the world's - richest cash crop,
poppies. Using contacts among the warlords who control the drug trade, the
Taliban are able to divert some of the money, which is then earmarked for
With the drug money and the networks of the LTTE, the Afghan resistance is now
well positioned to sufficiently arm itself to take its war with foreign forces
in Afghanistan to a new level.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online. He can be
reached at [email protected]