'We were sent by Pak mullahs to fight'
Captured Taliban rebels said that the mullahs in Pakistan were preaching them to fight in Afghanistan because there are foreign troops.Updated: Oct 19, 2006 13:22 IST
Handcuffed and weary, three confessed Taliban fighters told this week how they crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan to carry out a "jihad" against troops after mullahs said it was their duty as Muslims.
The young men -- two Pakistanis and an Afghan -- were captured after a fierce five-hour battle in Paktika province on Tuesday, just a few kilometers (miles) from the border.
During the battle, 24 of their fellow fighters were killed. The bloodied and broken bodies were later shown to reporters by the Afghan army at a base in Barmal district.
The dead were mostly Afghans but included an Arab, Chechens, Pakistanis, Turks and a man from Yemen, an officer said, citing information from the captured three, identity cards and, in one case, a name on a bullet belt.
"Mullahs in Pakistan were preaching to us that we are obliged to fight jihad in Afghanistan because there are foreign troops -- there is an Angriz (British) invasion," dishevelled Alahuddin told reporters.
"A Pakistani Taliban commander, Saifullah, introduced us to a guide who escorted us to Barmal," he said. "Then he left and we joined a group already here and came to the ambush site."
It was only Alahuddin's second day in Afghanistan and it went horribly wrong.
His group of 32 Taliban lay in wait for an army convoy, launching a clumsy attack mainly with AK-47 machine guns.
The Afghan soldiers and their International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) counterparts retaliated. Two columns of support quickly arrived and surrounded the attackers as attack helicopters were called in.
After five hours of fighting, 24 Taliban and a soldier were dead. Some of the rebels not killed by the troops blew themselves up with their own grenades, soldiers said.
One of the dead had a Pakistani ID document on his chest when he was shown to reporters, while the others had other papers on them that the Afghan army said gave their nationalities.
Alahuddin said he was misled into believing that Afghanistan was overrun by foreign "infidels", especially the British forces hated since their 19th century wars in the region.
"We were sent to Afghanistan blindly. We call on our other friends in Pakistan and say, 'There is no jihad here, everybody is Muslim,'" he told the agency.
A few hours later, the three men were on the floor of a helicopter with their eyes taped shut being taken to Kabul for interrogation.
Alahuddin was from Miranshah in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area that is just on the other side of the border with Afghanistan's Paktika.
The Pakistan government last month signed a truce with the area's pro-Taliban tribal elders who agreed to stop militants from crossing the border to carry out attacks in support of the Taliban insurgency.
In return the Pakistan army -- which says it has 80,000 men along the border to stop infiltration -- cut back its presence.
Political analyst Samina Ahmed, from the International Crisis Group, this week called the deal "irresponsible to say the least".
For "all practical purposes, now the Taliban are running the show," she told a meeting in Brussels.
Another of the captured men, the confused and clearly uneducated Zahidullah, was also from Miranshah.
He said that he too was brought into the fight by a mullah who put him in touch with the Taliban.
"We came to Afghanistan to carry out jihad against British forces -- as Muslims we are obliged to do jihad against them, this is what we were told," he said.
The captured men had no identification documents to prove that they were Pakistanis..
There are around 40,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, around a half of them Americans. Just over 5,000 are from the British army, which also has one of its generals, David Richards, in command of the ISAF force.
The US-led coalition that works alongside ISAF and the Afghan security forces said last month it had seen a 300 per cent increase in incidents in the area since a North Waziristan truce reached weeks before the September accord.
General Murad Ali, the deputy commander of southeastern military corps, was proud of the actions of his men in the counterattack, seen as a sign of the increasing professionalism of the Afghan army.
He openly accused the Pakistani military of aiding the Islamists tearing at the fragile young Afghan democracy.
"The cooperation of Pakistan with Taliban and Al-Qaeda is visible," Ali said.
"They cross into Afghanistan even in areas where Pakistani posts are installed, but they are not prevented. They carry out attacks and then return."
Such accusations anger Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf who is under pressure from Afghanistan and its international allies to end extremist support for militants.
Musharraf says the root of the problem lies inside Afghanistan.
First Published: Oct 19, 2006 13:22 IST