Insurgent faction presents Afghan peace plan, Carlotta Gall, The New York Times, 23 March 2010

Representatives of a major insurgent faction have presented a formal 15-point peace plan to the Afghan government, the first concrete proposal to end hostilities since President Hamid Karzai said he would make reconciliation a priority after his re-election last year.

The delegation represents fighters loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar… His representatives met Monday with President Karzai and other Afghan officials in the first formal contact between a major insurgent group and the Afghan government after almost two years of backchannel communications, which diplomats say the United States has supported.

A spokesman for the delegation, Mohammad Daoud Abedi, said the Taliban, which makes up the bulk of the insurgency, would be willing to go along with the plan if a date was set for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country. Publicly, a Taliban spokesman denied that.

The plan, titled the National Rescue Agreement, a copy of which was given to The New York Times, sets that date as July 2010, with the withdrawal to be completed within six months.

The ‘Good’ Taliban Myth, Rajeev Sharma, The Diplomat, 5 February 2010

The West’s strategy is to weaken the Mullah Omar-led Taliban by recognizing sections of the Taliban that are supposedly moderate and not affiliated with al-Qaida. These moderates are then supposed to share power with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in an attempt to bring about a national reunification (although of course this is something that isn’t going to happen overnight, and the broad contours of power sharing are yet to be drawn).

But there’s a real danger that while the West’s Utopian vision of peace, progress and prosperity in Afghanistan is laudable, the plan could ultimately serve to plunge the country into chaos. After all, if sections of the Taliban in Afghanistan are legitimized and allowed to share power, how could the Pakistani Taliban, which is also Pashtun, be ignored? And so what then would be wrong with the Punjabi Taliban?

Two days before the London Conference, the UN Security Council’s Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee decided to remove 5 former Taliban officials from a sanctions list that places curbs on some 150 individuals who served in the Taliban government. These individuals were banned from international travel and their assets were frozen under UN Security Council Resolution 1267. The most prominent individual removed from the list is former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, loathed in India since being seen on television picking up the baggage of three Pakistani terrorists freed from Indian prisons to secure the release of passengers on a hijacked Indian Airlines plane in Kandahar in 1999.

Deadly Persistence: Integrating Armed UAV’s and Ground Forces in Kandahar, Colonel Grey Turner and Major Jay Adair, 16 October 2009, [PowerPoint]

Has a detailed map of Kinetic event densities / Security Summary 2008 which shows the areas where conflict and engagement of enemy forces happened. It also roughly displays the insurgents’ lines of operations into Afghanistan.

Afghanistan held secret peace talks with Taliban, Deb Riechmann and Kathy Gannon, AP, 16 March 2010

The arrest of the Taliban’s No. 2 leader has raised some questions about Afghanistan’s involvement in secret peace talks with high ranking members of the group.

Abdul Ali Shamsi, security adviser to the governor of Helmand province, confirmed talks between Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – second in the Taliban only to one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar – and the Afghan government. Several media reports have suggested that Baradar had been in touch with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s representatives, but these are the first details to emerge from the discussions.

2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Afghanistan, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, UNHCR, 11 March 2010

There were numerous credible reports that the Taliban and other insurgent forces recruited children younger than 18, in some cases as suicide bombers and in other cases to assist with their work. For example, in Uruzgan the Taliban reportedly used children to dig hiding places for IEDs. There were many reports of insurgents using minor teenage boys as combatants in Paktya province. In July in Helmand province, authorities apprehended a child before he allegedly would have been equipped to become a suicide bomber.

Although most of the children were 15 or 16 years old, reports from Ghazni province indicated that insurgents recruited children as young as 12, particularly if they already owned motorbikes and weapons. NGOs and UN agencies reported that the Taliban tricked, promised money to children, or forced them to become suicide bombers.

30 Days Through Afghanistan: Setting the Foundation Camp Julien – Day 2, U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Nathan Gallahan, ISAF Joint Command Public Affairs, DoD USA, 10 February 2010

I asked Agoglia about COIN’s key to success and he said “One of the key ways is through the reduction of violence and whether you been able to sustain that reduction. ‘How much are the people interacting with you? How much are the people going to the security forces for assistance? Are they listening to the government, or to the Taliban?’”

He told me a story about a group of U.S. Marines who cleared a village in August and they are still holding it today. The insurgents haven’t given up on the village, so there’s still fighting, but there is still progress being made there. I can understand now, how hard it is to see progress in this country, because a lot of it seems to be made through attitudes and relationships, which are extremely hard to quantify.

A new Taliban initiative: Public Relations, Alissa J. Rubin, Korea Times, 3 February 2010

The Taliban have embarked on a sophisticated information war, using modern media tools as well as some old-fashioned ones, to soften their image and win favor with local Afghans as they try to counter the Americans’ new campaign to win Afghan hearts and minds. The dictates include bans on suicide bombings against civilians, burning down schools, or cutting off ears, lips and tongues.

Although the Taliban warned some civilians away before an assault on the heart of Kabul on January 18, they were still responsible for three-quarters of civilian casualties last year, according to the United Nations.

Now, as the Taliban deepen their presence in more of Afghanistan, they are in greater need of popular support and are recasting themselves increasingly as a local liberation movement, independent of Al Qaeda, capitalizing on the mounting frustration of Afghans with their own government and the presence of foreign troops. The effect has been to make them a more potent insurgency, some NATO officials said.

A couple of the most brutal commanders have even been removed by Mullah Omar. The Taliban’s public relations operation is also increasingly efficient at putting out its message and often works faster than NATO’s. Now they use word of mouth, messages to cellphones and Internet videos to get their message out.

“The reason they changed their tactics is that they want to prepare for a long-term fight, and for that they need support from the people; they need local sources of income,” he said. “So, they learned not to repeat their previous mistakes.”

But the most important factor in their growing reach is the ineffectiveness of the central government and Afghans’ resentment of foreign troops. Military intelligence analysts now estimate that there are 25,000 to 30,000 committed Taliban fighters and perhaps as many as 500,000 others who would fight either for pay or if they felt attacked by the Western coalition.

Despite an edict that says in suicide attacks “to try your best to avoid killing local people,” a suicide bombing in Oruzgan Province on January 14 killed 16 civilians.

Frontline Afghanistan: Civilians are the real prize, Matt Brown, ABC News, 8 May 2009

Australian officers say they see signs the insurgents also take steps to minimise the risk to civilians caused by their own operations. When the Special Operations Task Group participated in the major push against the insurgents in Helmand province in March they reported coming across very few civilians in major battles. On one occasion they fought their way through a series of compounds and started to believe the insurgents had been evacuating the civilians there as they fell back from their own command posts.

Insurgents have even adapted some of the makeshift mines (Improvised Explosive Devices) laid on roads in the south, fitting them with crude shields so that a vehicle would set them off but not a person walking by. The insurgents also take greater risks in laying the mines, waiting until the Australian troops are nearby in the hope of minimising civilian casualties and maximising their chances of killing or maiming a soldier.

Napoleon once said: “You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.”

The reconstitution of al-Qaeda:Losing Afghanistan and western Pakistan, Ahmed Rashid, Himal South Asian, September 2008

“Seven years on, the US-led war on terrorism has left in its wake a far more unstable world than existed on that momentous day: 11 September 2001. Rather than diminishing, the threat from al-Qaeda and its affiliates has grown, engulfing new regions of Africa, Asia and Europe and creating fear among peoples and governments from Australia to Zanzibar. In the region that spawned al-Qaeda and which the US has promised to transform after 9/11, the crisis is even more dangerous. Afghanistan is once again staring down the abyss of state collapse, despite billions of dollars in aid, 45,000 Western troops, and the deaths of thousands of people. The Taliban have made a dramatic comeback, enlisting the help of al-Qaeda and Islamic extremists in Pakistan, and getting a boost from the explosion in heroin production that has helped fund their movement.”

In the land of the Taliban, Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online, 2006

Who are the militants in Afghanistan?, Pam O’Toole, BBC News, 18 August 2006

Concise 2006 account of the Taliban and other major Islamic opposition groups.

Uruzgan Weblog: Taliban

The best compilation on many categories relating to the Afghanistan conflict. Ceased updating some tags mid-2007, but remains useful.

The Taliban – MPALS, National Defense University

Military Policy Awareness Links collection of recent papers.

Afghanistan, South Asia Analysis Group

SAAG frequently publishes detailed short articles on current Taliban questions, especially by the prolific B.Raman. While the SAAG website’s main homepage is non-functional, the cached version on Google works.

On the Edge of the Big Muddy: The Taliban Resurgence in Afghanistan, Thomas H. Johnson, China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly, May 2007.

Major analysis of Taliban resurgence, ethnic issues on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and the impact of civilian casualties. Very useful maps.
“Only through a proper understanding of the motivations and multiple identities that the Taliban lays claim to can their rapidly-growing insurgency be defeated and peace reestablished. By examining the historical and tribal facets of the insurgency, the nature of the Taliban is laid bare. This understanding is absolutely critical if the U.S. and NATO hope to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.”

Dadullah’s Death: Set-Back For Neo Taliban & Possibly Al Qaeda, B. Raman, International Terrorism Monitor, SAAG, Paper No. 233, 14 May 2007

Detailed paper on Dadullah.

Afghanistan Five Years Later: The Return of the Taliban, Senlis Council, 2006

Detailed report by Canadian NGO with strong local reporting.

Afghanistan: Contradictions Hint At Division Within Neo-Taliban, Amin Tarzi, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 15 September 2006.

“Media efforts have intensified by the various elements that oppose the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan. The stepped-up public campaign of the so-called neo-Taliban has accompanied increased insurgency and terrorism efforts by those same guerrillas. But while they have managed to convey their messages with greater frequency, their pronouncements have sometimes been marked by glaring contradictions. While inconsistencies are not new to the neo-Taliban, their recent frequency suggests strains could reemerge between Afghan opponents of the central government and their foreign allies.”

The Taliban Resurgence in Afghanistan, Eben Kaplan, Backgrounder, Council on Foreign Relations, Updated: May 30, 2006

Brief US account of the Taliban past and present.

Better paid, better armed, better connected – Taliban rise again, Declan Walsh, Guardian, September 16, 2006

“Kandahar under threat, war raging in two provinces and an isolated president. So what went wrong?” Useful account of Taliban resurgence.

Afghanistan: Who Exactly Is The Enemy? Amin Tarzi, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 23 November 2005

“Afghan President Hamid Karzai on 12 November repeated calls for the armed opposition to his government to join a national-reconciliation program that he has championed, on and off, since early 2003. Karzai chose a gathering of provincial officials at a meeting of the Commission for Strengthening Peace and Stability as the setting for his latest plea to militants. (That commission is alternatively known as the Independent National Commission for Peace in Afghanistan, or simply as the “Peace Commission.”) Coming as it does in the deadliest year since the demise of the Taliban regime, the plea highlights the fact that the success of the Afghan leader’s tack on reconciliation is open to debate.”

South and Central Asian Para-Military Groups, GlobalSecurity.org

Listing of major opposition groups in the region.

Taliban movement, Wikipedia

Wide-ranging but uneven account of the Taliban since 2001. Useful links to other, often solid, related Wikipedia entries.

List of Taliban leaders, Wikipedia

Comprehensive tabular listing of Taliban leaders, military commanders, former government officials.

Afghanistan: geography of the Taliban, Federico Tomasone, Equilibri, 13 April 2007

“The movement led by the students from the Deoband madras’s no longer exists. If it is an error to believe that Mullah Omar and his followers have been defeated it is equally true that the “Talib” movement has changed over the years. The media promotes the birth of the ‘neo Taliban’, how can this movement be defined and what are the differences in respect to the past?”

See also

Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Additional reserach: Ronald Li
Updated: 9 April 2010