Friday, October 02, 2009

Taliban verdict: George Bush let us back in

Newsweek has an incredible oral history of the Taliban resurgence -- six first-person narratives from current-day Taliban tracking their experience from the American overthrow to the present. It's excrutiating to follow their progress from the despair of 2002, when they never dreamed there would be a viable Taliban resurgence, to the present, in which they all brim with the confidence of the North Vietnamese that they can outlast the foreign invader.

The most politically sophisticated of the six, Maulvi Mohammad Haqqani, a former Taliban deputy minister and now a recruiter and propagandist, perhaps quite consciously verifies the dominant strategic rap against George , W. Bush. Here's his account of a pivotal period:
HAQQANI:Arab and Iraqi mujahedin began visiting us, transferring the latest IED technology and suicide-bomber tactics they had learned in the Iraqi resistance during combat with U.S. forces. The American invasion of Iraq was very positive for us. It distracted the United States from Afghanistan. Until 2004 or so, we were using traditional means of fighting like we used against the Soviets—AK-47s and RPGs. But then our resistance became more lethal, with new weapons and techniques: bigger and better IEDs for roadside bombings, and suicide attacks.
It's impossible to read these accounts without getting the sense that what may be prohibitively difficult now -- fostering a viable non-theocratic Afghan government -- may have been quite achievable in 2002-2003. The six jihadis chronicle a shift in Afghan attitudes toward the government and the insurgents - driven by errors of an undermanned U.S. force that had not yet been "Petraeusized" and an Afghan government that was corrupt and ineffectual from the start:

MOHAMMAD:Those first groups crossing the border were almost totally sponsored, organized, and led by Arab mujahedin. The Afghan Taliban were weak and disorganized. But slowly the situation began to change. American operations that harassed villagers, bombings that killed civilians, and Karzai's corrupt police and officials were alienating villagers and turning them in our favor. Soon we didn't have to hide so much on our raids. We came openly. When they saw us, villagers started preparing green tea and food for us. The tables were turning. Karzai's police and officials mostly hid in their district compounds like prisoners.

YOUNAS: After these first few attacks, God seems to have opened channels of money for us. I was told money was flowing from the Gulf to the Arabs.

Our real jihad was beginning by the start of 2005. Jalaluddin Haqqani's tribal fighters came actively back to our side because the Americans and the Pakistanis had arrested his brother and other relatives. He appointed his son Sirajuddin to lead the resistance. That was a real turning point. Until then villagers in Paktia, Paktika, and Khost thought the Taliban was defeated and finished. They had started joining the militias formed by the Americans and local warlords, and were informing on us and working against us. But with the support of Haqqani's men we began capturing, judging, and beheading some of those Afghans who worked with the Americans and Karzai. Terrorized, their families and relatives left the villages and moved to the towns, even to Kabul. Our control was slowly being restored.

That flow of money from the Gulf to the Taliban is a bitter historic replay of an earlier flow -- from U.S. coffers to the Mujihadeen fighting the Soviets and Soviet-backed Afghan government in the 1980s.

Haqqani, the propagandist also may be trying to get his two cents in to the Obama Administration's very public current strategic review:
Personally I think all this talk about Al Qaeda being strong is U.S. propaganda. As far as I know, Al Qaeda is weak, and they are few in numbers. Now that we control large amounts of territory, we should have a strict code of conduct for any foreigners working with us. We can no longer allow these camels to roam freely without bridles and control.
Newsweek closes the six interwoven narratives with this parting irony:
AKHUNDZADA: Sometimes I think what's happened is like a dream. I thought my beard would be white by the time I saw what I am seeing now, but my beard is still black, and we get stronger every day.

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