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Analysts: Taleban Trying to Regroup - 2003-05-27

It was a little over 1.5 years ago that Afghan forces, backed by U.S. firepower, dislodged the Taleban in Afghanistan. But analysts say recent hit-and-run attacks indicate the Taleban are trying to regroup. In recent weeks there has been a spate of fresh attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces, international peacekeepers, government troops, and aid workers in Afghanistan.

Stephen Tanner, author of a military history of Afghanistan, said it is clear that the Taleban have not gone away. "In fact, we never wiped them out in the first place. All they did was retreat to Pakistan. I mean, our troops never went into those mountains with any serious attempt to eradicate their bases," Mr. Tanner said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently declared an end to major combat operations in Afghanistan, and said there is relative security in most of the country. But Mr. Tanner disputes that, saying that the situation remains far from secure. "It sounds good to the public. He says 'we've won, there's no more problem.' So we turn our backs on the situation, and three months later they're back again," he said. Analysts say the new Taleban has been trying to attract new recruits by exploiting sentiment against the United States, particularly for its war in Iraq.

As Barnett Rubin a professor at New York University and perhaps the foremost U.S. academic authority on Afghanistan said, they are helped by the presence of Islamist governments sympathetic to the Taleban in the Northwest Frontier and Baluchistan, the two Pakistani provinces bordering Afghanistan.

"Clearly they have some kind of support bases in Pakistan in the provinces bordering on Afghanstan, which are all under governments which are controlled by parties that were really strong supporters of the Taleban. And they have become militarily more active. But the fact that they have sympathizers and supporters in very high places undoubtedly means they have access to some resources and protection," Mr. Rubin said. Major General John Vines, who took command of U.S. troops in Afghanistan Tuesday, told the Associated Press that despite the upswing in attacks, the Taleban's military capability is greatly diminished. He said that while operations will continue, the emphasis of U.S. forces will be shifting to Afghan reconstruction. General Vines ascribes the surge in attacks on aid workers to the increased presence of relief workers in the countryside.

But Mr. Rubin said U.S. forces still have a problem getting good intelligence to root out the remnants of the Taleban. "I think the problems the U.S. and coalition forces have in Afghanistan now are more due to some of the difficulty they have in carrying out counterinsurgency in tribal areas, where they don't have access to good intelligence and have difficulty operating. So that they often, or sometimes at least, attack the wrong people, create innocent victims. And this creates tremendous resentment," he explained.

Analysts said the increased Taleban activity is particularly worrisome as the government drafts a new constitution with an eye towards elections next year.