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1216 Taliban Insurgency, Afghanistan
Following its rise to power in September 1995, the Taliban
sought to create a state based on its religious interpretation
of Islamic governance. In accordance with its interpretation
of Sharia (Islamic law), the Taliban implemented a ban on all
forms of imagery, including television, music, and sports. The
first steps in destroying Afghanistan’s cultural heritage began
with the systematic looting of archaeological sites under Taliban control. At the Greek city of Ai Khanoum in a remote area
of northeastern Takhar Province, the plunderers, under financial agreements with ruling Taliban commanders, gouged out
the surface with bulldozers and probed deeply through long
tunnels. Beginning in 1996, attempts were also made to destroy
ancient statues housed in the National Museum in Kabul as well
as pre-Islamic artifacts stored in the Ministry of Information
In 1997 a Taliban commander trying to seize the Bamiyan
Valley declared that the Bamiyan Buddhas would be destroyed as
soon as the valley fell into his hands. The resulting international
outcry caused the Taliban leadership to prohibit the Buddhas’
destruction and to promise that the cultural heritage of Afghanistan would be protected. In 1998, however, the smaller Buddha’s
head and part of the shoulders were blown off, and the face of the
larger Buddha was blackened by burning tires.
It was not until the United Nations (UN) Security Council
imposed economic sanctions on the Taliban in December 2000
that the Taliban decided to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas altogether. In January and February 2001 the Taliban stepped up
its efforts at destroying all pre-Islamic artifacts in Afghanistan.
Invoking the Islamic prohibition against the depiction of living
things, the Taliban destroyed more than a dozen Greco-Buddhist
statues in the National Museum. On February 26, 2001, Taliban
ruler Mullah Mohammed Omar announced that all pre-Islamic
statues in the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan were to
be destroyed, and on March 9, 2001, members of the Taliban
blew up the Buddhas of Bamiyan. A few months later, smaller
Buddha statues in Falodi and Kakrak were also destroyed. The
destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan especially drew international ire because of their immense size and cultural importance; also driving global outrage at the Taliban’s actions was the
coverage of the destruction on television that was seen across
Keith A. Leitich
Afghanistan; Fatwa; Omar, Mohammed; Taliban
Marsden, Peter. The Taliban: War and Religion in Afghanistan. London:
Zed Books, 2002.
Nojumi, Neamatollah. The Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan: Mass
Mobilization, Civil War and the Future of the Region. Basingstoke,
UK: Palgrave, 2002.
Taliban Insurgency, Afghanistan
Military insurgency waged against coalition and Afghan government forces by the Taliban beginning in 2002. The Taliban movement emerged in the chaos of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, led
in part by young religious scholars trained in religious schools on
both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The name “Taliban”
is taken from the plural of the Arab word talib (“student”). The Taliban leadership is drawn from the Pashtun, the largest ethnic population in Afghanistan. Taliban leaders rely on support from the large
Pashtun strongholds in Pakistan, including the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas
(FATA), and urban areas with large Pashtun populations (Karachi,
Quetta). By the late 1990s the Taliban had established political control over more than 90 percent of Afghanistan, but because of its
harsh Islamist rule—which included mass public executions, bans
on music, and the destruction of ancient Buddhist religious statues
at Bamyan—it was recognized diplomatically only by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates.
In the late 1990s the Taliban provided sanctuary and support
for the Al Qaeda organization, which had aided them in their battle
against the Soviets. They received in return not only financial contributions but also military leadership and trained troops. After
Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the United States on September
11, 2001, when the Taliban leadership refused to turn over those
responsible, a coalition of forces headed by the United States
actively intervened in Operation enduring freedom in December
2001 to aid the Northern Alliance in defeating the Taliban and
drive it from power. By mid-2002, however, surviving Taliban
leaders were regrouping and taking control in many locations and
reestablishing themselves in others.
The insurgency and the revival of the Taliban as both a military
and political force would not have been possible without chaos in
Afghanistan and access to sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan, particularly the vital logistics base of Quetta and the loosely governed
areas of FATA. The Quetta shura (council) provides leadership
for Taliban military and political efforts in Afghanistan. This base
could not have been maintained without the support of Pakistani
officials and former officials. Pakistan’s military and intelligence
services have been actively supporting militants in Afghanistan and
Kashmir for almost 30 years and are skilled at providing assistance
in ways that are difficult to link directly to official sources.
Taliban forces are composed of ethnic Pashtuns from Afghanistan and western Pakistan and include some Afghan refugees who
were in Pakistan. There are also a small number of foreign volunteers. The Taliban are comprised of forces loyal both to Taliban
leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and Tehrik-i Taliban-Pakistan
(Pakistan Taliban, TTP). There is also a collection of allies and
affiliated groups. The best-known allied forces include Al Qaeda,
Hezb-i Islami (led by veteran militant Gulbuddin Hekmetyar),
and the Haqqani network (led by Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin
Haqqani). They have been funded largely by Afghanistan’s drug
© 2011 ABC-Clio. All Rights Reserved.
Taliban Insurgency, Afghanistan 1217
Members of the Taliban pose with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades in Zabul Province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, October 2006. (AP/
Wide World Photos)
trade, particularly in Helmand Province, and contributions from
the Muslim world, often collected as zakat (alms or charity) at
mosques throughout the world.
Insurgent efforts are organized in three theaters straddling the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border (the Taliban itself prefers to speak of
five fronts, creating a separate Kabul region and an overall military
commander). The eastern front includes portions of FATA and the
NWFP on the Pakistan side and the Afghan provinces of Nuristan,
Kunar, Laghman, and Nangarhar. Hezb-i Islami is active in this
theater along with other allied groups including Lashkar-e Taiba,
best known for the November 26, 2008, terrorist assault on Mumbai, India. The central or southeastern front extends from Bajaur
in FATA down into Baluchistan on the Pakistani side and includes
the Afghan provinces of Khowst, Paktia, and Paktika. The Haqqani
network has been very active here, as have large numbers of foreign fighters. The southern front is primarily manned by Taliban
forces and includes the Afghan provinces of Helmand, Kandahar,
Oruzgan, and Zabol.
U.S. and multinational forces in Afghanistan have faced considerable difficulty operating against the Taliban and its allies,
particularly when those forces are located on Pakistani soil. Pakistani military cooperation with the coalition has been most forthcoming in the FATA, where the TTP has waged operations against
the Pakistani government, and much rarer in Baluchistan, where
the Taliban central and southern fronts appear to enjoy considerable freedom of movement and logistic support.
The Taliban insurgency began making significant strides in
2003–2004 in traditional Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, particularly in the vicinity of Kandahar and in Helmand Province. Taliban forces initially infiltrated across from bases in Pakistan
but gradually developed base areas inside Afghanistan itself. The
limits of the Taliban’s capabilities, however, were demonstrated by
its inability to disrupt the Afghan presidential elections in October
2004. Operations through the end of 2005 were governed mainly
by the weather. Attacks peaked in December–January and then
declined until March or April as full-time cadres retreated to Pakistan for the winter and local forces stood down. Since the winter of
2005–2006, however, winter operations have increased in number.
The Taliban’s reach and influence grew sharply over the next
few years. An increasing emphasis on creating parallel political
© 2011 ABC-Clio. All Rights Reserved.
1218 Tallil Airfield
structures to compete with the Afgan government became apparent by early 2006, when Taliban leadership announced the
appointment of separate political leaders for all districts. By 2006
the Taliban claimed to operate local judiciaries in numerous provinces in southern and southeastern Afghanistan. The surge in
Taliban confidence and capability prompted an influx of North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troop reinforcements to
assist the Afghan government, although differing levels of commitment and rules of engagement handicapped the overall counterinsurgency effort. A Taliban final offensive launched in 2006 ended
indecisively. The Taliban had proved that it was much stronger
than most analysts had suspected, but it also proved incapable of
defeating the Afghan government or its coalition partners.
Taliban efforts increasingly targeted local police forces, allowing it to establish a more permanent local presence. In 2007 alone,
more than 900 Afghan police were murdered. The Taliban also
stepped up suicide attacks against Afghan and coalition forces,
from 21 in 2005 to more than 130 in 2006 and again in 2007. The
TTP and Taliban allies unleashed powerful attacks against the
Pakistani government in the last six months of 2007, and fighting
continued in the FATA throughout 2008. In late 2008 U.S. political
and military leaders committed substantial reinforcements to the
Afghan theater, and following his November 2008 election victory,
President-elect Barack Obama was reportedly briefed that the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border constituted the single most important security problem for his incoming administration. Obama
had already pledged to reinvigorate the coalition effort to defeat
the insurgency in Afghanistan, in part by increasing U.S. troop
strength there. Upon taking office in January 2009, he began to put
in place a strategy to decrease U.S. troop commitments in Iraq so
that troops and resources could be redirected to Afghanistan.
There are many explanations for the resurrection of the Taliban as a powerful force in Afghanistan, despite its woeful record
of governance when it held power from 1996 to 2001. First, the
Taliban has been able to expand because of the inability of the
current Afghan regime of Hamid Karzai to govern effectively
compounded by the failure to develop effective local police and
security institutions in the years after the Taliban’s initial defeat.
Second, there has been a lack of Pashtun participation in the
Afghan regime. Third, there are close connections between the
current Afghan government and first the United States and more
recently NATO and other international forces, which delegitimize
the Afghan regime in the eyes of the Afghan population. The continued presence of international forces in Afghanistan allowed the
Taliban to portray itself as fighting against foreign occupation.
Fourth, there was a shift of U.S. focus from Afghanistan to Iraq
for Operation iraqi freedom, launched in March 2003. Fifth, some
within the Pakistani Army and the Pakistani government wished
to reinstall a Taliban government in Afghanistan. This accusation
is made somewhat more credible by both persistent Pakistani
efforts to encourage negotiations with the Taliban and the presence of thousands of Taliban fighters in Baluchistan, the NWFP,
and the FATA. The United States and its coalition partners will
have to wage a much larger struggle on a much larger front if they
hope to defeat the resurgent Taliban. They will also have to engage
the Pakistani government more aggressively to fight the Taliban
insurgency in the border areas.
Timothy D. Hoyt
Afghanistan; Al Qaeda; enduring freedom, Operation; Hekmetyar,
Gulbuddin al-Hurra; Karzai, Hamid; North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Afghanistan; Omar, Mohammed; Taliban
Guistozzi, Antonio. Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban
Insurgency in Afghanistan. New York: Columbia University Press,
Jones, Seth G. Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan: RAND
Counterinsurgency Study No. 4. Santa Monica, CA: RAND
Rashid, Ahmed. Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure
of Nation-building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. New
York: Viking, 2008.
———. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central
Asia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001.
A major Iraqi Air Force base located some 186 miles southeast of
Baghdad in the Euphrates River Valley in southeastern Iraq near
the city of Naziriah. Tallil was strategically placed to defend Highway 8, the main road from Baghdad to Kuwait that ran along the
southern bank of the Euphrates.
Tallil Airfield was Iraq’s second largest, encompassing some
9,000 acres, and served as one of the Sector Operations Centers
(SOCs) for the Iraqi air defense system. Tallil was also known to have
been a storage facility for chemical weapons and was a major target
for the coalition’s air campaign during the Persian Gulf War (Operation desert storm) of January–February 1991. After the Persian Gulf
War ended, the airfield was decommissioned. When Operation iraqi
freedom began in March 2003, Tallil was an early objective. Soon
after its capture, the airfield was placed back into operation and
served as a major supply link for American and coalition forces.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Iraq constructed many airfields
to serve its growing air force. The Iraqi Air Force included many
modern aircraft, mostly from the Soviet Union and France. A total
of 24 heavily fortified and defended airfields served as bases for
the aircraft, with another 30 smaller dispersal airfields available.
Tallil was defended by surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and antiaircraft artillery (AAA), and hardened shelters were constructed
to protect aircraft based there. These shelters had been designed
and built by European contractors and met the standards established by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Tallil’s
facilities also included large numbers of hardened bunkers for
storing different munitions to include bombs and air-to-air and
© 2011 ABC-Clio. All Rights Reserved.