A Taliban surrender and a mass
attack By Syed Saleem Shahzad
HERAT, Afghanistan - With the focus of the
Taliban's spring offensive turning increasingly
toward the northwestern provinces adjoining Iran,
rather than on the southwest, the next few months
could prove pivotal in the ongoing insurgency
against North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led
"The Taliban's new focus is the
northwestern region, and there will be many
surprises in the coming days," Taliban spokesman Qari
Yousuf Ahmedi told Asia Times
Online by telephone.
Indeed, within the
space of a few hours the surprises included the
surrender of 40 Taliban and a mass Taliban attack
on district police outposts.
morning in Herat, this correspondent witnessed the
surrender of 40 Taliban under the government's
Takhim-e-Solh - Program for
Strengthening Peace and Reconciliation (PTS) -
which is aimed primarily at the Taliban and
members of the Hizb-i-Islami of warlord Gulbuddin
All of those handing themselves
over hailed from Badghis province, Herat
province's immediate northerly neighbor. Under
tight security, the Taliban were accommodated in a
guesthouse, after which they handed over their
weapons. These included mortars, light
machine-guns, AK-47 rifles, shells and rockets.
The PTS now has 11 regional offices, and
more than 2,500 former Taliban fighters and other
insurgents have left the battlefield and joined
The Herat provincial head of
the PTS, Mohammed Sharif Mojadidi, told Asia Times
Online that in the past year and a half, about 800
Taliban and fighters loyal to Hekmatyar had
surrendered their weapons to his office.
Those who are qualified enough are given
government jobs and others are simply given an
amnesty and allowed to return to their towns and
villages in peace.
surrendering on Saturday were reluctant to speak,
let alone give their names or details, so it is
difficult to say what motivated them. Certainly
many of them looked positively terrified,
presumably thinking of what might happen to them
should the Taliban find out about them.
Even the PTS staff wanted to stay in
background and they let Mojadidi do all the
talking; clearly they, too, don't want to be
targeted by the Taliban.
"Well, here we
have 40 people who have come to surrender their
weapons, but I know the Taliban have gathered a
force of 4,000 people," one official whispered as
I was leaving the PTS office. He was right.
By evening, news filtered in that at about
4pm, masses of Taliban had flooded into the
Ghurmach and Balamurgh districts of Badghis
province and fierce fighting had broken out with
the Afghan National Police. The Taliban often
choose late afternoon and evening for their
activities to minimize the effects of NATO air
power. Some sources told Asia Times Online that
the Taliban had seized control of both districts.
Fighting reportedly went on for hours and
NATO forces and contingents of the Afghan National
Army were rushed in to help. According to official
figures, 30 Taliban were killed, as well as three
In such incidents the Taliban
never expect to hold on to an area for long. In
this case they were giving a clear signal that
after instigating violence in Farah province
(immediately to the south of Herat province) they
were spreading their wings to other northwestern
Farah has been restive for
about a year, but Taliban activity in Badghis only
began this year with attacks on government convoys
and on district police such as the one on
NATO had expected to meet the
brunt of the Taliban's spring offensive in the
southwestern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul
and Urzgan and had concentrated its forces there.
However, to the surprise of all, many of
the Taliban simply slipped away into the
northwest, where they have quickly regrouped with
the local Taliban in the Persian-speaking region
of western Afghanistan.
information officer of the Italian forces in Herat
province refused to comment when contacted by Asia
The Taliban's maneuver to
preserve their strength in the southwest and open
up a new front in the northwest is well timed as
Iran is apparently content to see a low-level
insurgency in Afghanistan keep NATO busy. However,
Iran does not favor Sunni hardliners such as the
Taliban. Instead, there have been unconfirmed
reports that it is arming independent Shi'ite
groups in the northwest to take on some warlords.
Even this, though, will help the Taliban
as they can exploit any unrest that the Shi'ite
groups might stir up to garner support for their
fight against foreign forces.
such Iranian intrigues, including Tehran sending
back thousands of Afghan refugees, the Taliban's
new insurgency in the northwest is gathering pace.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia
Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.