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    South Asia
     Dec 22, 2005
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 weapons.

"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 source.

"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 pitched battles.

"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 Times Online.

"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 said.

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 weapons purchases.

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]

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing .)


Afghan drug problem solved, praise the laudanum (Nov 16, '05)

Al-Qaeda goes back to base (Nov 4, '05)

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Opium gold unites US friends and foes (Sep 3, '05)

 
 



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