Kabul, Aug.4 : Afghanistan of late has turned into a deadlier battlefield than Iraq with the Taliban demonstrating a new level of resilience and ferocity six years after being driven from power.
According to the New York Times, the resurgence of the Taliban is ringing alarm bells in Kabul, Washington and many NATO capitals, prompting a fresh round of soul-searching over how a relatively ragtag insurgency has managed to keep the world's most powerful armies at bay. The paper claims in its report that the objectives of the war against the Taliban have become increasingly uncertain.
The Taliban's tenacity, military officials and analysts' say, reflects their success in maintaining a cohesive leadership since being driven from power in Afghanistan in 2001. Their ability to attract a continuous stream of recruits is also being viewed with a sense of alarm.
Pakistan's tribal badlands continue to be used by the Taliban and other insurgent groups to train, recruit, regroup and re-supply their insurgency.
According to the NYT, the "advantage of that haven in Pakistan, even beyond the lawless tribal realms, has allowed the Taliban leadership to exercise uninterrupted control of its insurgency through the same clique of mullahs and military commanders who ran Afghanistan as a theocracy and harbored Osama bin Laden until they were driven from power in December 2001."
The Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, a one-eyed cleric and war veteran, is widely believed by Afghan and Western officials to be based in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province in Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan.
He runs a shadow government, complete with military, religious and cultural councils, and has appointed officials and commanders to virtually every Afghan province and district, just as he did when he ruled Afghanistan, the Taliban claim.
He oversees his movement through a grand council of 10 people, the Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, said in a telephone interview.
Mullah Bradar, one of the Taliban's most senior and ruthless commanders, who has been cited by human rights groups for committing massacres, serves as his first deputy. He passes down Mullah Omar's commands and makes all military decisions, including how foreign fighters are deployed, according to Waheed Muzhta, a former Taliban Foreign Ministry official who lives in Kabul and follows the progress of the Taliban through his own research.
The Taliban even produce their own magazine, Al Somood, published online in Arabic, where details of their leadership structure can be found, he said.
But while the Taliban may be united politically, the insurgency remains poorly coordinated at the operational and strategic levels, said Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of the NATO force in Afghanistan.
Taliban forces cannot hold territory, and they cannot defeat NATO forces in a direct fight, other NATO officials say.
They also note that scores of senior and midlevel Taliban commanders have been killed over the past year, weakening the insurgents, especially in the south.
The Taliban say they need little in the way of arms or material. They have a steady stream of financing from Afghanistan's opium trade, as well as from traders, mosques, jihad organizations and sympathizers in the region, and Arab countries.
The Taliban exploits their position as moral authorities.
That aura is increasingly terrifying. Known for their harsh rule when in power, the Taliban have turned even more ruthless out of power, and for the first time they have shown great cruelty even toward their fellow Pashtun tribesmen.
Their punishments include beheadings, abductions, death threats and summary executions.
Some of that brutality may be attributed to the growing influence of Al Qaeda, but much of it has by now taken root within the insurgents' ranks.
According to the NYT, jihad does not recognize borders. Much unites the Taliban on both sides of the border. They share a common Pashtun heritage, a longstanding disregard for the Afghan-Pakistani border drawn by the British and the goal of establishing a theocracy that would impose Islamic law, or Shariah.
To avoid jeopardizing their sanctuary or their hosts, however, the Taliban have always maintained the pretence that their leadership is based inside Afghanistan and that the insurgency is made up entirely of Afghans.
The Afghan government, however, insists that the Taliban are deployed on both sides of the border, and are directed by Pakistani intelligence officials with the aim of destabilizing Afghanistan and maintaining some sway over their neighbour.