Taleban fighters ‘reluctant to return to Afghanistan front’
By CARLOTTA GALL for the Scotsman
THE Taleban leadership is in danger of losing its grip on its field commanders after nine years of war and a spate of recent defeats. Tensions between mid-level field commanders and top leaders in Pakistan have become fraught, with those who have borne the brunt of fighting increasingly reluctant to return to battle zones, Taleban members have revealed.
After suffering defeats with the influx of thousands of new US troops in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand last year, many Taleban fighters retreated across the border to Pakistan.
They are now coming under pressure from leaders to return to Afghanistan to step up the fight again, a Taleban commander said.
“I have talked to some commanders, and they are reluctant to fight,” one 45-year-old commander, with the Taleban since its founding in 1994, said in Kandahar.
He spoke on condition he was not identified. “Definitely there is disagreement between the field commanders and the leaders over their demands to go and fight.”
Secure across the border, and tightly controlled by Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, the top Taleban leadership remains uncompromising. At the urging of their protectors in Pakistan, Taleban members say, they continue to push mid-level Taleban commanders back across the border to fight. These commanders have little choice but to comply, as they also depend on sanctuaries in Pakistan, where they keep their families.
In a meeting across the border in Pakistan this month, Taleban leaders ordered each commander to send four or five men back to home areas to resume operations by planting bombs, he said. “While commanders are worried for their lives, they have to go, or at least send some people,” he said.
Some of the dissension in Taleban ranks stems from raids by Nato forces aimed at eliminating Taleban field commanders. The raids have taken a toll on the quality of the Taleban’s fighting forces and exacerbated differences between the fighters on the ground and their leaders giving orders from their sanctuary in Pakistan.
One close supporter of the Taleban in Helmand said insurgents lost 500 fighters last year, including virtually all its commanders. Survivors had remonstrated with the leaders in Pakistan over why they had to sacrifice so many men.
A Nato intelligence officer in Kandahar said he had received one report of a knife fight in a Taleban leaders’ meeting in December, a sign of tensions.
The commander admitted Taleban had taken a battering and some were losing heart. “Compared to two years ago when people were willingly going to fight, that mood is reduced,” he said.
“We are tired of fighting and say this among ourselves. But this is our vow, not to leave our country to foreigners.”
Read the report on the Scotsman