October has been a calamitous month for the Taliban guerrillas waging war from sandy mountains and pistachio forests in this corner of northwestern Afghanistan.
The first to die was their leader, Mullah Ismail, hunted down and killed by US Special Operations troops. Next came the heir apparent, Mullah Jamaluddin, even before he could take over as Taliban “shadow” governor. Within a week, several other top commanders were dead — all casualties of the secretive, midnight work of American commandos.
And yet what has happened here in Badghis province also shows how large a gap remains between killing commanders and dismantling an insurgency. Nearly half of the province remains under insurgent control, an Afghan intelligence official estimated. A new Taliban governor has already been dispatched to the province, Afghan officials say, even though NATO portrayed Ismail’s killing as a “huge blow” that would “significantly reduce Taliban influence throughout the region.” “Fighting in Afghanistan is like hitting coals with a stick, it just spreads to other places,” said Delbar Jan Arman, who as provincial governor is trying to stave off the Taliban advances. “It will continue.”
Although the number of Afghan soldiers has increased in Badghis, many here cite US Special Operations raids as the most effective weapon against the Taliban.
Ismail had seized the reins as Taliban leader in the province after US troops killed his predecessor in February 2009.
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