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    '150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us': Taliban fighters defiant in Afghanistan (OP)


    Salaam

    Another update on the situation in Afghanistan

    Rare interviews with militants shine light on resilient movement that resisted both Obama’s surge and now Trump’s ‘killing terrorists’ strategy

    Squatting on the floor, a brown shawl draped over his shoulders, the Taliban commander and his bodyguard swiped on their phones through attack footage edited to look like video games, with computerised crosshairs hovering over targets. “Allahu Akbar,” they said every time a government Humvee hit a landmine.

    Mullah Abdul Saeed, who met the Guardian in the barren backcountry of Logar province where he leads 150 Taliban militants, has fought foreign soldiers and their Afghan allies since the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan when he was 14. The Taliban now controls its largest territory since being forced from power, and seems to have no shortage of recruits.

    By prolonging and expanding its military presence in Afghanistan, the US aims to coerce the Taliban to lay down arms, but risks hardening insurgents who have always demanded withdrawal of foreign troops before peace talks.

    In interviews with rank-and-file Taliban fighters in Logar and another of Afghanistan’s embattled provinces, Wardak, the Guardian found a fragmented but resilient movement, united in resistance against foreign intervention.

    Referring to Barack Obama’s surge, Saeed said: “150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us.” And an extra 4,000 US soldiers, as Donald Trump will deploy, “will not change the morale of our mujahideen,” he said. “The Americans were walking in our villages, and we pushed them out.” For the Taliban to consider peace, he said, “foreigners must leave, and the constitution must be changed to sharia.”

    Active Taliban footsoldiers rarely agree to meet western reporters. Men such as Saeed, who spoke without leadership permission, provide valuable insight into a movement that after 16 years in armed opposition remains largely an enigma.

    Arriving on a motorbike kicking up dust, Saeed and his Kalashnikov-carrying bodyguard, Yamin, were aloof at first but warmed as the conversation evolved. Saeed said that as the war has changed, the Taliban have adjusted, too. US soldiers now predominantly train Afghans, and have ramped up airstrikes.

    “It’s true, it has become harder to fight the Americans. But we use suicide bombers, and we will use more of them,” Saeed said. “If the US changes its tactics of fighting, so do we.” That change has meant ever-fiercer attacks, with large truck bombs in populated areas and audacious assaults on military bases.

    In April, Taliban fighters in army uniforms stormed a northern army academy and killed at least 150 soldiers in the biggest assault on the army of the entire war. This month, suicide bombers wiped out a whole army unit, ramming two Humvees packed with explosives into a base in Kandahar.

    As Saeed spoke, three young boys from the civilian family at the house where the interview took place brought tea. They giggled as they listened in on the fighters’ radio. Saeed spoke with a calm, professorial demeanour but his words brimmed with the anger of a man who has spent his adult life fighting a generation-long war, and lost 12 family members doing it.

    Pressed on the record-high number of civilian deaths in the war, he said the Taliban “make mistakes” and try to avoid harming civilians, but added: “If there is an infidel in a flock of sheep, you are permitted to attack that flock of sheep.”

    The Taliban was always outnumbered and technologically outmatched by its foreign adversaries, but is arguably at its strongest since 2001, threatening several provincial capitals. The movement, though, is divided, with some lower-ranking commanders backing rivals of the current chief, Mawlawi Haibatullah, or more radical outfits such as Islamic State. But rifts have not stopped the group from advancing.

    Saeed claimed: “10-15 people join the mujahideen [in Logar] every day, sometimes also policemen,” adding that mistreatment by government and foreign forces helps recruitment.

    “Many Taliban become suicide bombers after prison. Why?” he asked, describing how prison guards torture detainees by applying air pressure, beatings or electric shock to their genitals. After a detainee is released, he said, the shame is too much to bear. Such claims of government torture have been documented by the UN.

    While few in the international community think the war can be won militarily, the US shows little intention of reviving the dormant peace process. “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists,” Trump said when announcing his south Asia strategy. “In the end we will win.” Crucially, Trump has not established criteria for when US troops will be pulled home.

    In a separate interview in the beleaguered Wardak province, Omari, 23, who has six years’ frontline experience, told the Guardian he had considered leaving the insurgency and taking his family to Kabul. “But if the Americans come back to Wardak, I will fight them,” he said. Omari was less cavalier than Saeed about civilian casualties, which he said damaged the Taliban’s standing with ordinary Afghans, who have become more reluctant to shelter them.

    Yet, the two militants did agree on one thing: American soft power is as dangerous as uniformed soldiers, especially as US troops have dwindled in numbers. That belief materialised last year when militants, in a stunningly grisly attack, stormed the American University in Kabul, killing 16 students and staff members. In the capital, many regard the university as one of the pinnacles of post-Taliban Afghanistan.

    Though no group claimed responsibility for the attack, Saeed and Omari agreed the university posed a threat. “We should kill those teachers who change the minds of society,” Saeed said.

    Currently, the Taliban seem capable of upholding a slow-burning war, with the help of outside benefactors. After recent US pressure on Pakistan to crack down on militant sanctuaries, some Taliban fighters consider opting for another regional neighbour, Omari said: “Many Taliban want to leave Pakistan for Iran. They don’t trust Pakistan anymore.”

    Pakistan denies harbouring militants, but Saeed admitted receiving assistance from Pakistan, though he denied being under anyone’s thumb. “Having relations is one thing, taking orders is something else,” he said. “Every party, if they want to be stronger, need to talk to other countries. We should talk to Iran, and we should talk to Pakistan. Just like the Afghan government goes to India and China.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/31/150000-americans-couldnt-beat-us-taliban-fighters-defiant-in-afghanistan

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    Re: '150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us': Taliban fighters defiant in Afghanistan

    Report bad ads?

    Salaam

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    Re: '150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us': Taliban fighters defiant in Afghanistan

    Salaam

    Another perspective, like to share.



    Blurb

    Afghanistan has been plagued by nearly 5 decades of constant warfare. The violence and bloodshed seem never-ending. But what lessons can we learn from the conflict? What can we learn from war and conflict in Afghanistan?

    We are joined in this conversation by Sangar Paykhar, a guest lecturer in the Netherlands, and a cross-cultural communications expert. Sangar also hosts a podcast discussing issues and current affairs in Afghanistan, The Afghan Eye Podcast.


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    Re: '150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us': Taliban fighters defiant in Afghanistan

    Salaam

    Another update

    EXCLUSIVE As U.S. prepared exit, Taliban protected foreign bases, but killed Afghans

    Taliban fighters have protected western military bases in Afghanistan from attacks by rival, or rogue Islamist groups for over a year under a secret annex to a pact for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by May 1, three Western officials with knowledge of the agreement told Reuters.

    The U.S. State Department gave no immediate response to Reuters over the existence of any such document. Nor did it have any immediate comment on what the three officials described as a "Taliban ring of protection".

    Since United States struck a deal with the Taliban in February 2020, paving the way for America to end its longest war, there have been no U.S. combat deaths, and there have been only isolated attacks on U.S. bases.

    Instead, the Taliban intensified attacks on Afghan government forces, and civilian casualties have spiralled.

    Peace talks between the militants and the government, begun in September, have made no significant progress, and a U.N. report said civilian casualties were up 45% in the last three months of 2020 from a year earlier.

    Testing Taliban patience, U.S. President Joe Biden served notice that the U.S. withdrawal would overshoot the May 1 deadline agreed by the previous U.S. administration, while giving an assurance that it would be completed by Sept. 11 - the 20th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks on the United States.

    When the deadline passes on Saturday, around 2,000 U.S. troops will still be in Afghanistan, according to a western security official in Kabul. The commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General Scott Miller earlier this week said an orderly withdrawal and the handing over of military bases and equipment to Afghan forces had begun.

    Afghan soldiers left manning those bases could need plenty of firepower to resist any offensive by Taliban fighters who have been occupying strategic positions in surrounding areas.

    In the past two weeks alone, the militants have killed more than 100 Afghan security personnel in a surge of attacks that followed Biden's announcement that a U.S. withdrawal would take a few months more.

    Two of the Western officials said Washington had accepted the Taliban's offer to shield the western military bases from attacks by the likes of Islamic State.

    The officials said the Taliban had wanted to demonstrate good faith by meeting a commitment to ensure Afghan soil was not used for attacks on U.S. interests - a key U.S. demand in the February agreement.

    "They provided a layer of cover, almost like a buffer and ordered their fighters to not injure or kill any foreign soldier in this period," said one western diplomat involved in the process.

    The western officials said it was also important for the Taliban to show its ability to control the more recalcitrant factions in its movement, like the Haqqani network, which has often followed its own agenda, though its leader Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second-highest ranking commander in the Taliban.

    A Kabul-based western security official said that militants had kept their side of the bargain.

    "The Taliban swiftly responded to even minor attacks conducted by the Haqqani network and Islamic State fighters around the bases," he said.

    DEADLINE SATURDAY

    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid declined to comment on the so-called "ring of protection" agreement.

    More broadly, he said no security guarantee has been given to the United States beyond Saturday's deadline, but talks were underway among the group's leadership and with the U.S. side.

    "So far our commitment of not attacking the foreign forces is until May 1, after that whether we will attack or not is an issue under discussion," said Mujahid.

    Mullah Baradar, the Taliban's deputy political chief, held talks with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to discuss the peace process on Thursday, another militant spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said in a Twitter post.

    Clearly having the militants holding positions around Western bases presents a danger if no understanding is reached.

    "They've definitely moved ever closer to a lot of Afghan and foreign bases," said Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think-tank.

    "Encircling U.S., NATO, and Afghan bases seems like the Taliban strategy to poise themselves to take over when foreign forces leave."

    Afghan defence ministry spokesman Fawad Aman said the Taliban had ramped up violence against the Afghan people and their government, while holding fire against foreign forces.

    More than 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed and almost 5,800 were wounded in 2020, according to a United Nation report.

    "By not attacking the foreign forces but continuously targeting the Afghan security forces and civilians, the Taliban have shown that they are fighting against the people of Afghanistan," Aman said.

    Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, sympathised with that view, saying: “they have every right to lambaste a U.S.-Taliban agreement for failing to bring a semblance of relief to Afghans themselves.”

    https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-p...ns-2021-04-30/
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