Taliban Reviving, Afghan Gov't Faltering

A security forces soldier checks a driver Friday, April 4, 2003 in downtown Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Security forces swept through remote hills in northwestern Afghanistan on Monday in search of several hundred suspected Taliban fighters blamed for launching a recent wave of attacks.

The fighters' names and native villages were discovered on lists found in the pockets of five senior Taliban commanders captured during fighting in Badghis province last week, said Abdul Wahed Tawaqli, spokesman for the governor of neighboring Herat province.

Those captured included Mullah Badar, a former governor of Badghis under the Taliban, whose government was ousted by U.S. forces and Afghan opposition groups in 2001.

"In the pockets of these senior commanders, we found lists detailing the names and native villages of those who've been attacking us," Tawaqli said. "We've been looking for them house by house, one by one."

Afghan authorities say Taliban remnants are reorganizing in an effort to destabilize the fledgling government of President Hamid Karzai.

Southern Afghanistan in particular has been wracked by several attacks in the last few weeks by suspected Taliban fighters, including the murder of a Red Cross worker Ricardo Munguia and an ambush on a U.S. military convoy that killed two American servicemen.

Before executing the International Red Cross worker, the Taliban gunmen made a satellite telephone call to their superior for instructions: Kill him?

Kill him, the order came back, and Munguia, whose body was found with 20 bullet wounds last month, became the first foreign aid worker to die in Afghanistan since the Taliban's ouster from power 18 months ago.

There is little to stop them. The soldiers and police who were supposed to be the bedrock of a stable postwar Afghanistan have gone unpaid for months and are drifting away.

Officials announced a landmark program Sunday to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate an estimated 100,000 fighters across Afghanistan over the next three years.

The U.N.-sponsored program with start in July and last up to three years, the government said.

But officials admitted it will not be an easy task: Most of Afghanistan has long been ruled by warlords with vast private armies who have frequently battled one another.

At a time when the United States is promising a reconstructed democratic postwar Iraq, many Afghans are remembering hearing similar promises not long ago.

Instead, what they see is thieving warlords, murder on the roads, and a resurgence of Taliban vigilantism.

"It's like I am seeing the same movie twice and no one is trying to fix the problem," said Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghanistan's president and his representative in southern Kandahar. "What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing. Everyone is back in business."

Karzai said reconstruction has been painfully slow — a canal repaired, a piece of city road paved, a small school rebuilt.

"There have been no significant changes for people," he said. "People are tired of seeing small, small projects. I don't know what to say to people anymore."

When the Taliban ruled they forcibly conscripted young men. "Today I can say 'we don't take your sons away by force to fight at the front line,'" Karzai remarked. "But that's about all I can say."

From safe havens in neighboring Pakistan, aided by militant Muslim groups there, the Taliban launched their revival to coincide with the war in Iraq and capitalize on Muslim anger over the U.S. invasion, say Afghan officials.

Abdul Salam is a military commander for the government. Last month he was stopped at a Taliban checkpoint in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar and became a witness to the killing of Munguia, a 39-year-old water engineer from El Salvador.

International workers in Kandahar don't feel safe anymore and some have been moved from the Kandahar region to safer areas, said John Oerum, southwest security officer for the United Nations. But Oerum is trying to find a way to stay in southern Afghanistan. To abandon it would be to let the rebel forces win, he says.

The Red Cross, with 150 foreign workers in Afghanistan, has suspended operations indefinitely.

Today most Afghans say their National Army seems a distant dream while the U.S.-led coalition continues to feed and finance warlords for their help in hunting for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

Karzai, the president's brother, says: "We have to pay more attention at the district level, build the administration. We know who these Taliban are, but we don't have the people to report them when they return."

Khan Mohammed, commander of Kandahar's 2nd Corps, says his soldiers haven't been paid in seven months, and his fighting force has dwindled. The Kandahar police chief, Mohammed Akram, says his police haven't been paid in months and hundreds have just gone home.

"There is no real administration all over Afghanistan, no army, no police," said Mohammed. "The people do not want the Taliban, but we have to unite and build, but we are not."