I used to know but I forgot.
New breed of Taliban replaces old guard
Money and a hatred of foreigners are motivating a new generation of Afghan fighters.
By Alex Thomson
17 Sep 2008
Mehran Bozorgnia, a cameraman working for Channel 4 News, spent time with the Taliban in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan to discover this new breed.
After months of planning, phone calls, endless cups of tea at meetings in Kabul to arrange the visit, it began with two knocks at the steel door of a mud compound near the southern city.
Eyes glinted as a face and a white turban appeared - as did a Kalashnikov. The door slammed shut. Nerve-wracking minutes passed before the door opened again.
Inside, it turned out to be the former home of Mullah Dadullah, the Mujahideen-turned-Taliban commander, killed by Nato forces (including Britain's Special Boat Service) last year. The house is still a command centre for "the Taliban". But that word is starting to lose meaning.
Beware: these men may lay down their lives for you if you are their guest. But they may hack your head off if you're an intruder.
They soon demonstrated gruesome beheading videos on their state-of-the-art mobiles to establish their credentials.
Hamidullah Khan, a veteran fighter in his mid-forties, underlined why the wild body-counts of the Afghan government are meaningless. These Talibs fight, he claimed, like shark's teeth. "This is the late Mullah Dadullah's home. He gave his life for God's will. When he was killed 20,000 more came forward in the name of Dadullah. They're now behind him. This is the Taliban way. When one is killed another comes in. Then another. We don't leave the ground empty."
And there was no evidence here of hordes crossing the frontier from Pakistan. To a man they were Afghan. The sole foreigner, Aftab Panjabi, a former Pakistan Army officer, took a dozen Talibs through the art of firing an AK47 accurately.
They were candid about their motives. There was no chat of Mullah Omar - the old Taliban leader - nor Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Their fight is both modern - and yet traditional.
In modern terms they feel nothing has changed. They see a country mired in corruption. They know there is a government of sorts in distant Kabul but it has no writ here. Haji Hyatullah, in his twenties, may have his face covered in black turban - but talks openly about getting far more money fighting with the Taliban than any other job around. Assuming for a second that there were any jobs. "People are getting fed up with the lies the government has told them.
There is no work for people. They do this because they need a piece of bread to eat," he said.
But surely someone has got to negotiate eventually with the government? President Hamid Karzai himself wants that, even if the Americans are lukewarm.
"No, no, no," he laughed, genuinely amused by the concept of negotiation with Kabul.
"We don't see any need for talks with this government. Actually there is no such thing as the government. The issue here is foreign countries and we deal with them by fighting like this. Jihad is the only way for us. Our Jihad."
And that is the second, timeless motive. Talk to them about fighting the British and they don't do "war on terror". Instead, they left the compound to visit a nearby graveyard, a resting place for Afghans who fought against the British over a century ago. Haji said: "People want to defend their independence, Islam and Afghan national pride. That's why they come and support the Taliban."
They were nonplussed that President Karzai says it is "un-Afghan" to attack Nato troops. And they have no lack of support.
Hamidullah Khan explained how arms and ammunition come in from both Pakistan and Iran. Asked where the general finance comes for all this, war being nothing if not expensive, he said: "The money's coming in from all Islamic countries. All over the world.
"But in particular we are getting plenty of money from Islamic countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia."
During the visit, the fighters talked more like old-time Mujahideen, discussing the Russian invaders, than the unsmiling students of Mullah Omar.
By night they liked nothing more than a drop (or three) of whisky - though did not drink in front of a camera.
By day they encouraged locals to bet on the local sport of ram-fighting, laying money on which horned headbutter stuns its opponent the quickest. The Taliban who overtook this country more than a decade ago would have blanched.
They appeared equally happy to be filmed at a local wedding where - heaven forefend - a local band whacked out traditional Pashtun party tunes. The drum and keyboard combo need not have worried about the Mullah sending in goons to silence them. There is more, much more to the modern Taliban than brain-washed kids coming in from Pakistani madrassa schools, strapped up with explosives.
Of course they exist. But so do these new-style Afghan Talibs. Changed lifestyles and changed military tactics too. They happily showed off their stash of Afghan police and army uniforms. They discussed how they infiltrate local security forces. So they know when, where and how they will move. It's all about intelligence, ambush technology - not the costly frontal assaults of old.
As if to prove that, they supplied a video of them using the main Kabul-Kandahar highway as cover for rocketing a nearby compound. Daylight, brazen, confident - they moved almost leisurely, firing from the road. The traffic barely slowed. And what can Nato do - strafe Afghanistan's equivalent of the M1 motorway?
I remember when officials in Kabul pointed to that road as a shining symbol of "New Afghanistan". Nowadays any Afghan will advise you to do anything you want on that road - except drive along it.
In all of this, an urgent lesson for Nato: these local, Afghan fighters enjoy real support. It is simply wrong to say it is just coercion and terror. Just like the Mujahideen did. Indeed, on this evidence the so-called Taliban might be changing into something far more like the Mujahideen than the madrassa-produced Pakistani Taliban.
Have Nato allowed themselves to become the new Russians? Many an Afghan would say yes.