KABUL - With the Taliban geared for their
biggest push of the year to take control of
southern Afghanistan, district by district,
coupled with suicide attacks in the cities,
Western intelligence believes that the killing of
Mullah Dadullah was a big mistake.
one-legged, charismatic and battle-hardened
Dadullah, 41, was killed in mid-May in the
southern province of Helmand in a US-led coalition
operation. He had emerged as the overall field
commander of the Taliban, as
well as an astute diplomat: he had courted
Pakistan to act as a peacemaker between the
Western coalition and the insurgents.
Highly placed Western contacts familiar
with coalition operations in Afghanistan told Asia
Times Online that with Dadullah dead, the Taliban
have become a much more elusive adversary and the
"peace route" with Pakistan is now a non-starter.
Dadullah was a natural leader who had been
able to assimilate fighters of varied backgrounds
and train them to follow a single coherent
strategy. Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani could
possibly have taken his place, but he has been
seriously ill, even rumored to be dead.
these circumstances, the Taliban leadership
decided to assign a number of seasoned commanders
to different areas, where they would be in charge
of their own tactics depending on local
conditions. The idea was to scatter as many of
them as possible to spread further already
stretched coalition and Afghan National Army
Although the commanders chosen
were experienced, they were not well-known faces,
and were thus able more easily to go about their
business. For instance, Amir Khan Muttaqi was sent
Kunar province, Mullah Kabir was activated in the
Khost, Gardez, Paktia and Paktika areas, Mullah
Bredar was assigned in the western zone that
includes Ghor, Badghis, Farah and Herat.
For the southeast, the Taliban will keep
coalition troops engaged with suicide attacks and
guerrilla operations, while at the same time
increasing operations in the southwest, such as in
Badghis and Farah provinces.
troops are finding that when they focus on one
sector, violence escalates in another. And they
simply don't have enough resources to manage the
whole of Afghanistan at the same time - especially
when some of the coalition partners are not
interested in ground operations.
relative obscurity of the the new Taliban
commanders also rules them out of becoming
involved in any back-channel peace negotiations
with Kabul. Indeed, rigid Taliban leader Mullah
Omar is pulling their strings and there is no way
he will ever sit with any Western coalition for
Taliban on the move As
evidence of the new Taliban approach, southern
Afghanistan has witnessed an array of devastating
suicide attacks and guerrilla operations since
Sunday, covering Kabul, Kunar, Nooristan, Khost
and Paktia. There have also been incidents in
Urzgan, Helmand and Kandahar.
of Mian Nashin in Kandahar fell and Afghan
soldiers were forced to flee and call in North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) air fire.
Similarly, in the Chor district of Urzgan, the
Taliban seized key positions from where they plan
a major push deeper into the province.
There was a major battle in the district
of Grishk in Helmand between NATO forces and the
Taliban on Tuesday. A Taliban spokesman, Qari
Yousuf, told Asia Times Online that the Taliban
killed 16 NATO soldiers and destroyed three tanks.
The claim could not be independently confirmed.
On Sunday morning, a suicide bomber blew
up a police-academy bus in Kabul, killing 35
people and wounding 52. It was the country's worst
bombing since the Taliban were ousted more than
five years ago. The Taliban claimed
The renewed Taliban
activity is obviously of concern to the NATO
command. Apparently as a result, Admiral William
Fallon, the chief of the US Central Command,
recently visited Pakistan for meetings with
President General Pervez Musharraf, the vice chief
of army staff, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff and the director general of Inter-Services
US assistant secretary of
state Richard Boucher and Deputy Secretary of
State John Negroponte have also been in Islamabad.
The crux of this fresh interaction is that
insurgencies do not have borders. Unlike
previously, though, this does not mean that the US
wants to go in hot pursuit of the Taliban in
Pakistan. Rather, it wants to track them from the
Pakistani tribal areas into Afghanistan.
The Taliban have several command centers
in Pakistan, including in North Waziristan and
South Waziristan, Bajur, Noshki and Chaman, from
where recruits are sent to Afghanistan. But the
Taliban also have hubs in Afghanistan in
Nooristan, Kapisa, Kunar, Helmand, Kandahar, Farah
Massive bloodshed awaits
Afghanistan's vastness, and there is currently no
room for peacemakers.
Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau
Chief. He can be reached at