Taliban backbone said broken, but still a danger
swissinfo June 7, 2005 9:20 AM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Afghan security officials in the troubled south of the country say Taliban guerrillas are finished as a threat on the battlefield but they will be able to stage ambushes and bomb blasts for some time yet.
The Taliban insurgency flared this spring after a lull over the snowbound winter months, disappointing many in the government and international community who thought the rebels had been mortally starved of resources and recruits.
But in Kandahar, one of the provinces where the insurgents have been most active, officials said despite the recent violence, the Taliban were now a nuisance, not a military threat.
"The Taliban have lost the ability to confront us face to face," General Muslim Amid, army commander for several southern provinces including Kandahar, told Reuters in an interview late on Monday.
About 100 insurgents have been killed in a series of clashes since late March. Dozens of government security men and 10 U.S. soldiers have also died in fighting.
There have also been several bomb attacks in cities, including Kabul and Kandahar. A suicide bomber killed 20 people in an attack on a mosque in Kandahar last week as mourners paid respects to an anti-Taliban cleric killed by gunmen three days earlier.
The Taliban have been blamed for that blast.
Amid said he was not involved in the investigation of the bombing but acknowledged the insurgents could still carry out small but deadly strikes.
"They can manage to plant mines and carry out small-scale attacks or ambushes, but I can say that their backbone has been broken," he said.
The last major clash with Taliban and al Qaeda fighters was last month in neighboring Zabul province, he said.
Kandahar and Zabul were bastions of the Taliban regime until it was overthrown by U.S.-led forces in 2001 for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, architect of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Amid said the Taliban were still getting outside help which would keep them alive for some time to come.
"They receive foreign aid, supplies and money. They have Arab, Chechen and Pakistani fighters in their ranks," he said.
A Kandahar police official said the public was worried about security but he too insisted the situation was improving.
"There are concerns among the people about worsening security but the overall situation compared with last year has improved," General Salim Khan said on Tuesday.
"But we can”t remove the worries and concern from people”s hearts. Of course, there have been and will be small-scale attacks, planting of mines and blasts, but it has to be said these won”t impact overall security."
Amid said the Taliban had links with opium traffickers who provided the rebels with funds. He and Khan said much of the violence in the south and east was the work of bandits and drug-runners.
"It will take time to overcome all of these concerns," Khan said.
Amid said his troops together with U.S.-led forces would now concentrate on security for delayed parliamentary elections on Sept. 18.
U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai won a presidential election last October. Taliban fighters and their allies vowed to derail the vote and killed several election workers in the run-up but polling day passed off smoothly.
There were bound to be attempts to spoil the parliamentary vote but Amid said his men would ensure security.
"There are challenges ahead but the Taliban do not have the ability to disrupt the election."