Taliban claim victory from a
defeat By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The Taliban have suffered their
first major loss in this year's offensive, but
they are putting on a brave face, even spinning
the setback as a triumph in their broader battle
against foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Wednesday, several thousand US Marines captured
the town of Garmsir in the southern Afghan
province of Helmand in their first large operation
since arriving to reinforce North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) troops last month.
Taliban-controlled Garmsir had served as a main
supply route for their insurgency in the area.
The Taliban, however, claim the loss of
one base is not critical, and anyway, for NATO to
hold on to its gain it will have to
thousands of troops to the
outpost, which is located in the inhospitable
desert, if it is to effectively guard the lawless
and porous border through which the Taliban funnel
men, arms and supplies.
The Taliban also
claim that one of their underlying goals since the
US-led invasion in 2001 has been to tie down as
many foreign troops as possible, much as the
mujahideen wore down Soviet troops in the 1980s.
Various Taliban leaders have told the media they
will not resist the forces in Garmsir, one of the
biggest concentrations since the 2001 assault on
Meanwhile, the Taliban say
they will energize their drive to win over the
Pashtun tribal districts on both sides of the
border and turn them into "Taliban country", a
process that is already well underway.
NATO, the fight against the Taliban has almost
gone full circle. From the initial large offensive
involving thousands of troops, NATO resorted to
limited special operations with heavy reliance on
air attacks. This only increased the population's
anger against the coalition as many ordinary
citizens died in the onslaught from the sky, and
the Taliban were able to capitalize on this
NATO command has now decided
to increase its ground presence, even at the risk
of greater casualties. As mentioned above, this
suits the Taliban and its al-Qaeda-inspired goal
of tying up troops.
As NATO consolidates
in the Garmsir deserts, the Taliban will be busy
in eastern Afghanistan's border provinces, aiming
to bring the tribes there under Taliban control.
One of their weapons is fear, as happens
in the Pakistani tribal areas, where through
targeted killings of high-profile enemies, such as
tribal chiefs, clerics and pro-government
personalities, they effectively intimidate their
Now it is happening in
Afghanistan, the latest being the suicide attack,
carried out by Anwar ul-Haq Mujahid's Tora Bora
group, in the Khogiani district of Nangarhar
province against the police chief of Khogiani, who
had informed US forces in 2001 about the Tora Bora
mountains and al-Qaeda's sanctuary there. The
police chief survived, but at least 18 other
people were killed.
The mastermind of this
strategy is Ustad Yasir, a regional commander of
the Pakistan and Afghan border regions, though he
was recently rooted out from Khyber Agency in
Pakistan after the Taliban were betrayed there.
(See Taliban bitten by a snake in the
grass Asia Times
Online, April 26.)
Having "lost" Khyber
Agency, where the Taliban had targeted NATO supply
lines, they now want to continue this tactic in
adjoining Nangarhar province.
don't forget - or forgive - though. On Thursday,
they launched a suicide attack in Khyber Agency
against Haji Namdar, who betrayed them. Only one
of the four explosive plates strapped to the
bomber exploded, so Namdar managed to escape
unhurt, although 30 others were injured.
At the time of the attack, Namdar was
appealing to the masses for donations for the
Taliban's struggle in Afghanistan. But now he has
been exposed as a traitor and in fact not
pro-Taliban. This may allow the Taliban to make
inroads into his large constituency, which is
traditionally suspicious of the Taliban, who still
very much want to regain a footing in Khyber
Taliban sources have also claimed
the capture of an important US military camp in
Khost province (close to the Pakistan border), but
that could not be independently confirmed. The
camp is said to have been taken by Jalaluddin
Haqqani and handed over to al-Qaeda militants. If
this is true, it would be a step in the Taliban's
march to wrest control of Afghan tribes.
Meanwhile, the NATO soldiers guarding the
Garmsir deserts, one of the world's hottest spots,
with temperatures reaching 50-60 Celsius, face a
tough time. The area is central to the country's
flourishing opium trade.
On the Afghan
side of the border, it is run by elements in the
Afghan administration and security forces. (See
The Taliban's flower power
Asia Times Online,
February 1, 2007.) Across the border, it is mainly
run by Pakistani-Iranian Baloch smugglers.
The Taliban only allow the transportation
of drugs and related activities for payment, which
means the drug cartels will facilitate the
insurgency, and make it even hotter for NATO.
Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's
Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at