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Taliban regrouping in Afghanistan

Four years after being ousted from power by the US-led coalition, the hardline militia is finding support among locals.

india Updated: May 01, 2006 11:18 IST

Four years after being ousted from power by the US-led coalition, the hardline Taliban militia is regrouping in eastern and southern Afghanistan and even finding support among locals.

Lately, there has been a spate of skirmishes and attacks on the coalition forces and the Afghan government by the Taliban, the latest being the kidnapping and brutal murder of Indian telecom engineer Suryanarayana on Sunday.

The resurgent ambitions of the Taliban, known for its puritan code and fanaticism, can be gauged from the fact that it gave an ultimatum to the Indian government to withdraw nearly 2,000 Indian workers from Afghanistan in return for releasing the captive.

Recently, two Taliban fighters and two Afghan soldiers died in a gunbattle in Zhawara district of Afghanistan's volatile eastern province of Khowst. The Taliban targets aid and reconstruction projects in the region.

At the end of March, US-led coalition forces concluded "Operation Valiant Strike," the third largest conducted this year against the remnants of Al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels in the south.

With the killing of a Red Cross delegate in Oruzgan province and regular skirmishes with coalition troops in the south and southeast, the spotlight has turned to the areas of Taliban influence and the key men controlling them.

Zabul province, one of the key areas from where the Taliban men cross into Afghanistan via Pachena and Anganay from neighbouring Quetta, is the main route for the militia to go to other southern provinces.

The Taliban has been controlling most of the area in this region. There are reports of the Taliban finding new supporters among locals who see them providing better security to people than the government does.

Even the voting for parliament from these areas last year could not be conducted as the election materials and the polling parties could not reach their respective places due to the militants' control over the routes.

Dai Chopan district is one of the worst districts as far as insurgency is concerned.

The insurgency is headed by Mullah Dadullah, who has about 400 fighters. Most of the Al-Qaeda fighters travel with him and he mostly stays between Quetta and Zabul.

Dadullah is also the military commander for the Taliban in the south. The guerrillas have weapons from AK-47 rifles to heavy machine guns to rocket launchers and mines. Lately, they have been making their own bombs, sources told the agency.

In Atghar district, Mullah Razaq is heading Taliban operations in the area and his deputy is Mullah Agha.

Around 40 Taliban fighters are working in small groups in Nawbahar district.

In Khake Afghan district, foreign fighters, mostly Arabs and Chechens, have their base.

It is being headed by a Taliban commander, Mullah Qahar, who was the commander for a Taliban frontline during the fight against the Northern Alliance.

Commander Amir Khan Haqqani has 120 fighters who are working in Arghandab and Mizan districts.

In Sewaray district, there are at least 600 fighters in and around the Sewaray district that shares a border with Quetta.

Amir Khan is an ex-senior Taliban military commander who was head of the Qargha Division in Kabul under the Taliban.

Qalat, the provincial capital of Zabul province, is headed by Taliban commander Mullah Assadullah who has around 300 fighters.

Five months ago, Assadullah masterminded the killing of a Turkish engineer and kidnapped Indian engineer Maniyappan Ramankutty in the Tarnak area.

Besides, these are the areas from where the Taliban crosses over to the other side to receive training in Pakistan.

Recently, Afghan President Hamid Karzai confronted Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf with evidence of Islamabad's continued patronage of the Taliban.

However, Musharraf denied the charges and said that Islamabad was as much a victim of terrorism as New Delhi and Kabul.