Afghanistan’s Hizb-i-Islami Refuses to Negotiate from a Position of Weakness

Andrew McGregor

April 22, 2010

In a statement released on April 10, Afghanistan’s Hizb-i-Islami (Party of Islam) provided an angry response to comments given to a U.S. Senate committee by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The Defense Secretary said that negotiations would be necessary to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan, but would not work unless Kabul negotiated from a position of strength and the insurgents were convinced they were going to lose (AP, March 24; VOA, March 25). In reply to Gates’ statement, Hizb-i-Islami stated:

God willing, this dream of yours will never come true. Your dream of weakening the mujahideen will never come true. The time will never come when you get the upper hand and the mujahideen becomes weak and obliged to accept your conditions. If, God forbid, such a time comes, then our answer will be that the time for talks has passed. Be sure that we will never sit for talks with the enemy when we are weak and powerless… We would rather sacrifice ourselves in God’s path than bow down to the enemy. We will never surrender to this shame (Afghan Islamic Press, April 11).

A Hizb-i-Islami delegation was recently in Kabul to present a 15-point Mesaq-e Melli Nejat (National Rescue Plan) to the Karzai government and a number of E.U. and U.N. envoys (Pajhwok Afghan News, April 2). According to Hizb-i-Islami, their peace proposal was “logical, practical and easy.” The plan called for the complete withdrawal of occupation forces in six months, but did not call for the dissolution of the Karzai government, parliament or the security forces. The implementation of this plan has been opposed by “some arrogant and warmongering American generals” who have stressed the need for continuing the war (Afghan Islamic Press, April 11).

Gulbuddin HekmatyarHizb-i-Islami Leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

While urging the Taliban to agree to their proposal, Hizbi-Islami says it is interested only in face-to-face negotiations with other Afghans, rather than negotiating through a mediator. The movement suggests that previous negotiations with representatives of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura, conducted through the mediation of Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide led to the detention of a number of Taliban leaders.

Media reaction in Afghanistan to the Hizb-i-Islami statement was mixed. Drawing on past experience of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami movement, some suggested there was no guarantee that the group would stop killing people after reconciliation (Hasht-e Sobh [Kabul], April 10). Others said Karzai’s efforts to build ties with Hizb-i-Islami would be dangerous for Afghanistan, though one columnist suggested the American and Hizb-i-Islami positions on peace talks would inevitably become closer (Mandegar, April 10; Arman-e Melli [Kabul], April 10).

The movement’s inclination towards peace negotiations has apparently not prevented it from preparing new attacks in Kabul. Afghanistan’s National Security Directorate announced on April 10 that it had arrested 26 members of the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami on charges of carrying out terrorist operations and suicide attacks in the Afghan capital (Pajhwok Afghan News, April 10; Mandegar [Kabul], April 11).

This article first appeared in the April 22, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Afghanistan’s Hizb-i-Islami Distances Itself from Taliban

Andrew McGregor

April 9, 2010

Since the arrest in Pakistan of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and other leading members of the Afghan Taliban, negotiations between the movement and the Karzai government have ground to a halt. The opportunistic Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Afghanistan’s Hizb-i Islami (HI), appears ready to step into the peace talks as the representative of the armed Islamist opposition, leaving his Taliban allies outside of the process.

QotboddinQotboddin Helal

Hekmatyar was the single largest recipient of CIA military aid and funding in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet jihad, as distributed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which regarded Hekmatyar as a favorite. Despite this, Hekmatyar’s forces did little fighting against the Soviets, preferring to stockpile their weapons for use against their former mujahideen allies in the post-war struggle for political dominance.

During the Afghan Civil War of 1992-1996, HI was notorious for targeting civilians, particularly in Kabul, where their barrages of rockets and artillery killed thousands. The strategy proved to be political suicide; while the Taliban assumed leadership of the Pashtun Islamist movement, Hekmatyar fled to exile in Iran. By 2008 he appeared to have rebuilt an insurgent force inside Afghanistan that was soon fighting alongside the Taliban. Nevertheless, as one Kabul daily noted, Hekmatyar has always betrayed his coalition partners in the past (Arman-e Melli [Kabul], March 31).

The HI delegation presented a 15-point Mesaq-e Melli Nejat (National Rescue Plan) to a government delegation consisting of the most powerful men in the Karzai regime (Pajhwok Afghan News, April 2). The delegates also had meetings with EU and UN envoys in Kabul. They rejected the idea of talks with U.S. representatives, but expressed interest in meeting the ambassadors of China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (Tolo TV, March 30).

Qotboddin Helal, the leader of the delegation, told the Afghan press that HI and the Taliban share a common belief in the application of Shari’a, but have important differences in terms of governance. HI favors elections leading to an “elected Islamic government in Afghanistan,” while the Taliban favors the creation of an Islamic Emirate without elections (Hasht-e Sobh [Kabul], March 30). Unlike the Taliban, HI already has representatives in Afghanistan’s parliament, including Minister of Economy Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal.

Hekmatyar’s son-in-law, Dr. Ghairat Bahir, was also part of the HI delegation (Weesa [Kabul], March 30). Bahir spent four years in the American prison at Bagram air base on terrorism charges before being released in 2008 (, June 1, 2008). He has since acted as a go-between for Karzai and Hekmatyar, who was specially designated as a “Global Terrorist” by the United States in 2003.

Another member of the HI delegation, Mohammad Amin Karim, said his movement had officially recognized the Afghan government, the armed forces, the constitution and parliament as “realities.” According to the delegate, HI’s key demand was a six-month long withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan to begin in July along with the closure of foreign prisons, both of which demonstrated that Afghanistan was an occupied country (Tolo TV, March 30).

When details became public, Chairman of U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen quickly dismissed the HI “rescue plan” as “unacceptable” (Pajhwok Afghan News, March 31). HI forces continue to claim attacks on U.S. forces, most recently on Sehra Bagh airbase in Khost province (Shahadat [Peshawar], April 4).

The possible return of Hekmatyar was not welcomed by much of the press in Kabul, where he is not remembered fondly. Payam-e Mojahed reminded its readers of the fact that Hekmatyar was affiliated with Pakistan’s secret services, while Cheragh less diplomatically described the HI delegation as “Pakistani stooges” (Payam-e Mojahed, April 3; Cheragh, April 5).

Washington is facing a growing disinterest on the part of its allies for continuing military operations in Afghanistan. Karzai’s government has already engaged in secret negotiations with the Taliban in the Maldives while launching a series of aggressive criticisms of U.S. activities and policies in Afghanistan. If these are correctly interpreted as signs that the war is drawing to a gradual close, Pakistan’s security services are well served by having the ISI-connected Hizb-i-Islami dialogue with the government while Mullah Omar’s Taliban continue to apply military pressure on the Karzai regime.

This article first appeared in the April 9, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Afghan President Hamid Karzai Admits to Covert Talks with Mullah Omar’s Taliban

Andrew McGregor

February 12, 2010

In an Arabic-language interview carried on January 29 by al-Jazeera, Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai acknowledged that covert talks with Mullah Omar’s Taliban began nearly 15 months ago in Saudi Arabia and suggested NATO had made “major errors” in the defense of his regime.

With regard to trying American, British or NATO soldiers for killing Afghan civilians, Karzai confirmed his desire to have suspects delivered over to his government for justice. “We want this and we demand it.” At the same time, the president said it was his intention to follow through with his campaign pledge to “free every Afghan prisoner” held in American prisons in Afghanistan. “I hope that the U.S. side will understand this as an indispensable need in order to win the trust of the Afghan people so that they might continue their journey with us. In order that the United States might succeed in Afghanistan this thing must happen.”

Mullah Muhammad OmarMullah Muhammad Omar

While acknowledging the Afghan National Army was not yet capable of ensuring national security, Karzai laid the bulk of the blame for Afghanistan’s deteriorating security conditions at the feet of NATO. “Both sides are responsible… The Afghan forces were not strong enough and they made mistakes. The NATO forces made major errors.” Karzai suggests that the bulk of the Taliban forces are composed of young men without hope or shelter and distinguishes between these young men and “the terrorists” that must be defeated in Afghanistan. “That is what I want the NATO forces to understand; namely, that the war against terrorism should not be waged in Afghanistan’s villages; it does not mean pursuing every man with a beard and a turban, or anyone who dons the Afghan traditional outfit.”

The president confirmed recent rumors that members of his government had met with a Taliban delegation approved by Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar in Saudi Arabia in September 2008. “Yes, this happened sometime ago. They are Afghans and we also are Afghans and we have known each other since the days of jihad against the Soviets. There was cooperation between me and Taliban when this movement appeared. I know them very well.” The talks in Mecca were reportedly initiated after a senior Saudi official traveled to Pakistan’s North Waziristan Tribal Agency in an attempt to meet with top Taliban leaders and al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri. Though the Saudi official failed to meet anyone other than third-tier Taliban commanders, the effort led to the organization of secret talks in Mecca sponsored by the Saudis and attended by American officials. Though nothing came of these talks due to the Taliban’s insistence on an American withdrawal before negotiations could begin, parleys facilitated by Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID) are reported to be ongoing (The News [Islamabad], February 6).  Karzai announced on January 28 that he had made a formal request to Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud for help in facilitating talks with the Taliban (The News, January 28).

Karzai denied the existence of direct talks between himself and Mullah Omar. “Unfortunately I cannot find him and talk to him directly. If I can find his telephone number or his address I will certain contact him.” In another interview several days later, Karzai expressed his hope for reconciliation with Mullah Omar and the Taliban leader’s return to Afghanistan – under one condition: “Mullah Omar is first and foremost an Afghan, and we want all Afghans to return. Afghanistan is a democratic country, but it is also an Islamic country, and the Taliban know that… The rejection of al-Qaeda and terrorist networks is an absolute prerequisite [for reconciliation]” (Der Spiegel, January 31).

This article first appeared in the February 12, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Reclusive Leader of Haqqani Network Speaks to Press as U.S. Urges His Elimination

Andrew McGregor

January 28, 2010

Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the dangerously effective and independently operated “Haqqani Network” of Taliban insurgents, terrorists and suicide bombers gave a rare interview to al-Jazeera on January 19. Based in the Miran Shah district of North Waziristan, the network’s operations straddle both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.. During a January 21-22 visit to Islamabad, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Pakistan’s political and military leadership to expand military operations into North Waziristan, a Haqqani Network stronghold (AFP, January 21).

Sirajuddin Haqqani 2Sirajuddin Haqqani

The secretive Taliban commander revealed little about future activities in the short videotaped interview, but the occasion may have marked a decision to take a more visible role in the conflict. Despite being strongly anti-American, Sirajuddin gave an email and telephone interview to the Wall Street Journal last December (Wall Street Journal, January 20). With U.S. forces scheduled to begin withdrawal next year, Sirajuddin may be attempting to increase his political profile, though not his visibility – Sirajuddin covered part of his face with a head cloth at all times during the al-Jazeera interview.  Nevertheless, at one point Sirajuddin appears to complain that his group is not receiving sufficient media attention. “The world is covering up our operations; they know well who we are. I cannot tell you anything before it happens. God willing, the day will come when they will admit who we are…”

Though there have been questions about Sirajuddin’s apparent independence from the core Taliban leadership under Mullah Omar, the Taliban commander insists coordination between the various components of the Taliban is greater than ever:

Thank God, the mujahideen are getting more advanced. The war is now being dictated by them. I can guarantee you that in the future their fighting will be even better. At the beginning of this war the coordination between our fighters was useless, but now there are so many attacks that even we cannot count them ourselves. But it’s still not enough. The future will show what I mean.

Perhaps in anticipation of a Pakistani crackdown, Sirajuddin recently downplayed his activities in North Waziristan, emphasizing that he was concentrating on military operations in Afghanistan’s Khost and Paktika provinces (Nawai Afghan Jihad, November 11, 2009).

Sirajuddin Haqqani is a dominant presence in Afghanistan’s Khost province. It is unlikely that the complicated operation that resulted in a Jordanian triple agent blowing up seven CIA agents and a Jordanian intelligence operative in Khost on December 30, 2009 could have been carried out without his cooperation or approval.


This article first appeared in the January 28, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Taliban Military Commander in Zabul Province Discusses Tactics and Strategy

Andrew McGregor

January 14, 2010

The sparsely inhabited Afghan province of Zabul is nevertheless a strategic concern for U.S. and Coalition forces in Afghanistan, due to its location and majority Pashtun population. Zabul shares a border with Pakistan to the south and another with the unsettled Taliban hotbed of Kandahar to the west. Taliban activity is on the rise in Zabul and the Taliban publication Al-Sumud recently took the opportunity to interview a prominent military commander in Zabul province, Mullah Abd al-Qahhar (Al-Sumud, January 2010). The interview is dated December 23, 2009.

ZabulMullah Abd al-Qahhar is described as a prominent leader of the 1980s jihad against the Soviets and the Afghan communist regime. His religious studies were interrupted by the conflict. After being wounded four times he joined the Taliban in 1994 and has been fighting Coalition occupation forces in Zabul for several years.

During the interview, the Taliban commander discussed the tactics used in Zabul province and the overall strategy of the Taliban forces. Abd al-Qahhar claims Taliban forces control most of the districts of Zabul, save for the “district capitals where enemy forces have their posts.” The mujahideen also control “all roads of enemy transport, including the Kabul-Kandahar highway. Whenever they try to move from one point to another, they face ambushes and landmines planted by the roadside.” Assembling and planting mines effectively required the establishment of specialized training courses to teach the skills needed for the remote control of explosives. All mujahideen units in the province now have expertise in these areas.

American forces are engaged against the Zabul Taliban, aided by a battalion of Romanian troops in the Shinkay and Shah Joy districts. Romania pulled out its 520 troops in Iraq last year while pledging to reinforce its battalion in Zabul by 108 soldiers in 2010 to better enable it to carry out its mission (Xinhua, June 30, 2009). Much of the Romanians’ Soviet-era equipment would be familiar to mujahideen veterans like Mullah Abd al-Qahhar.

Abd al-Qahhar says an expansion of Taliban influence and operations in the province prevents the Coalition from establishing new military bases. These operations include “planting mines, preparing obstacles, martyrdom-seeking campaigns on enemy convoys, rocket attacks on enemy posts, and offensive attacks on enemy garrisons.”

When asked about President Obama’s decision to send additional forces to Afghanistan, the Taliban commander suggested that the president have a close look at former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s remarks last November, when the ex-Soviet leader pointed to the Soviet failure in Afghanistan as a lesson for President Obama. In his remarks Gorbachev suggested that the current conflict was unwinnable and the United States should begin withdrawing troops rather than raising their numbers, stating, “I believe that there is no prospect of a military solution” (Bloomberg, November 10, 2009). Abd al-Qahhar sees the Afghanistan “surge” as only part of an American plan to establish a semblance of security in the country before beginning an evacuation. “I believe that sending more troops is only intended to expedite the mission of withdrawal and rehabilitation of the collaborating government to bear responsibility. However, at the same time, they do not conceal their fear that the collaborating government will fall less than one week after the exit of the Crusader forces.”

In classic guerrilla warfare fashion, Abd al-Qahhar states that “the citizens are the mujahideen themselves.” The Taliban have managed to ingratiate themselves into the local population by providing parallel administrations in each district that offer an alternative to the corrupt system managed by Kabul. The Taliban settle local disputes and offer a speedy and honest judicial system; in return the people provide the mujahideen with all of their needs.

Nevertheless, Abd al-Qahhar sees the greatest strength of the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate” in its steadfastness against the global “Crusader union”; “The Emirate has never felt weak, never surrendered, never bargained, and never had any internal disputes or dissensions, despite all the ordeals and hardships it has gone through in its jihad against the Crusaders.”

Abd al-Qahhar also stressed the usefulness of suicide attacks, citing the suicide bombing of a military convoy in Shah Joy that he claims killed eight Romanians (possibly referring to the August 27, 2006 attack on an Afghan military prisoner convoy in which the Romanians took casualties when they came to assist) and a suicide car-bomb attack on an American base that he claims killed 23 Americans (the Mullah apparently refers here to the November 19, 2009 attack on an American base in Shah Joy that killed an American NCO of the 82nd Airborne Division) (Afghan Islamic Press, August 27, 2006; AFP, August 27, 2006; Xinhua, November 19, 2009). According to U.S. military sources, U.S. troops are “often met with outright hostility” in Shah Joy district (Stars and Stripes, November 12, 2009).

This article first appeared in the January 14, 2010 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Taliban Predict President Obama’s “Colonial Strategy” Will Lead to American Collapse

Andrew McGregor

December 15, 2009

In the midst of extensive coverage of President Obama’s decision to send another 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, the Taliban’s response was little noticed. A formal statement from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was carried by the Afghan Islamic Press on December 2.

TalibanTaliban Fighters

The statement describes the President’s decision to pursue a “colonial strategy” as one taken under pressure from “Pentagon generals, U.S. neo-conservatives and U.S. major investors.” While protecting the “colonial interest of American investors,” it ignores the economic and financial crisis facing the American people.  The statement suggests that the increase in troops will only result in an increase in casualties as the Muslim people of Afghanistan consider the Karzai regime to be “depraved puppets of the invaders.”

The Taliban leadership employs the statement as part of a continuous effort to distance themselves from the global jihad of al-Qaeda. “We do not have any bases in Pakistan and do not need to have any bases outside Afghanistan… The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has repeatedly clarified to the international community that we do not intend harming anyone in the world. Therefore, the presence of the aggressive foreign forces in Afghanistan has nothing to do with world security.”

The Taliban response ends by reminding American officials that a continuation of their strategy will result in the sure collapse of America, as happened “to other boastful invaders in the past.”

In a further statement carried on the Taliban’s Pashto-language Shamat website, the Taliban state their belief that America’s allies have told President Obama “frankly and firmly” that they are no longer interested in pursuing the war in Afghanistan and are not prepared to send new troops.

The statement goes on to mock the President’s announcement that he would send 30,000 new American troops to Afghanistan:

Obama and the American people should know that the former Soviet Union sent many more troops to Afghanistan and that their puppets were much more powerful and warmongering then the current puppets. However, since Afghanistan is the graveyard of the invaders and colonialists and this nation has the historic honor of bringing down invaders and those who claim to be pharaohs [i.e. tyrants], therefore the Americans should also start the countdown for facing the same fate.

Noticeably absent from the Taliban statements was the racial invective found in earlier Taliban references to President Obama. This may be part of Mullah Omar’s more conciliatory approach and the movement’s new effort to position itself as a legitimate and responsible alternative to the corrupt Karzai government.

The Kabul government took a more optimistic approach to the President’s commitment of more troops. Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said the additional deployment was exactly what the government was looking for, “so that we ourselves should eventually take the responsibility and our guests can return to their homes safe and sound as soon as possible” (Tolo TV [Kabul], December 2).

This article first appeared in the December 15, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Deputy Amir of Taliban Rejects U.S. Plan to Create an “Awakening” Movement in Afghanistan

Andrew McGregor

November 19, 2009

Late last month, U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin described a new law signed by President Barack Obama authorizing the payment of Taliban militants in return for laying down their arms. Lower-level Taliban fighters would be offered amnesty and employment in new local defense militias patterned on the “Awakening” movement that diverted many Iraqi Sunni militants into pro-government forces that played a major role in expelling al-Qaeda from large parts of Iraq (AFP, October 29; Reuters, October 27).

The Taliban responded to this initiative with an October 30 statement by Deputy Amir Mullah Brader Akhund, released through the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Voice of Jihad website (, October 30). Mullah Brader described the plan as nothing new, suggesting “old weapons” of this type were already a proven failure in Afghanistan: “The British invaders used it in the 19th century but failed; the former Soviet Union used it; it failed too.”

Mullah Brader issued a number of points for the “moribund rulers of the White House”:

• The existence of “moderate” and “extremist” Taliban does not correspond with reality; these terms are American inventions.

• The Mullah describes the professional soldiers of the Coalition and members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) as “mercenaries and employed gunmen.” By contrast, the Taliban fight solely for independence and the establishment of a Shari’a system. “This war will come to an end when all invaders leave our country and an Islamic government based on the aspirations of our people is formed in the country.”

• The White House should focus on “pragmatic” and “realistic” means of ending the conflict. The United States should stop “shedding the blood of innocent Muslim people” by pulling its forces out of Afghanistan and by putting “an end to the game of colonialization.”

• The huge military expenditure on the war in Afghanistan will deepen the American economic crisis. “Your people will face more problems and suffer from psychological diseases.”

• In a reference to President Hamid Karzai and his brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, Mullah Brader denounced those “few well-known Afghan Americans who sell their country and who have received training in the CIA cells for many years.” The Mullah describes their actions as an unforgivable and shameful act that will carry an “historical taint.” The Mullah suggests American leaders should look at the example of the pro-British Shah Shuja (assassinated in 1842), and the pro-Soviet Babrak Karmal, who was ousted as president by his Soviet sponsors in 1986. The United States should study what status these surrogate leaders had “in the eye of the Afghan masses.”

The Taliban statement came at the close of a month that saw 53 American fatalities in Afghanistan, the worst single month for U.S. military losses since the war began in 2001.

This article first appeared in the November 19, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor


Taliban Aim to Eliminate U.S. Bases in Nuristan

Andrew McGregor

November 13, 2009

In the wake of an attack that nearly overran a U.S. military outpost in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province, the Taliban have released a statement in the name of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan describing the attack as part of a larger campaign to drive the U.S. military out of their bases in Nuristan. The statement appeared in the October-November issue of the Taliban’s Al-Sumud magazine.

NuristanTraditional Housing – Nuristan

An October 3 attack by some 300 Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami fighters on Combat Outpost (COP) Keating (occupied jointly by U.S. and ANA forces) left eight Americans dead and 24 wounded. The attack on COP Keating was similar, in both scale and ferocity, to the Taliban attack on the U.S. outpost at Wanat in July, 2008 that left nine U.S. soldiers dead and 27 wounded.

The isolated outposts in Nuristan were meant to provide some control of the passes through the rugged terrain of the Hindu Kush along the border with Pakistan. In winter these outposts are extremely difficult to supply. COP Keating, surrounded by high ground on three sides, was unable to conduct patrols outside the perimeter.

Nuristan’s Governor, Jamaluddin Badar, told an Afghan daily that the Taliban commander of Kamdesh and Barg-i-Matal districts, Mullah Abdur Rehman Mustaghni, was killed in an American airstrike on October 9. The report was verified by General Muhammad Afzal, commander of the 201st “Selab” (Flood) Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA), but was denied by a Taliban spokesman (Pajhwok Afghan News, October 10).

As might be expected, the Taliban have exaggerated their success at COP Keating, describing the camp of 90 Afghan policemen and 50 U.S. troopers of the 61st Cavalry Regiment as “one of the most important and biggest U.S. bases.” While the Taliban forces overran part of the outpost, the arrival of air support allowed U.S. forces to retake the post before destroying it in their withdrawal. The Taliban claim “army soldiers are surrendering to the mujahideen [in Kamdesh district] on a daily basis.” They also warned of “more dangerous outcomes, such as an armed mass rebellion, which happened many times in the units of the Soviet army in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban statement also claimed that the expulsion of U.S. forces from Nuristan would deal a blow to Israel, which it alleges to be profiting from a trade in “plundered” diamonds from Nuristan, a known source of gemstones. “As usual, where there is wealth and opportunities, there must be Jews around.” The Taliban see the U.S. occupation of the region as part of the region’s economic exploitation. “From the beginning, the U.S. Army estimated that the blood of its soldiers is cheaper than diamonds, precious stones, interests of Jewish banks, the oil of Afghanistan and middle Asian countries, and 9,000 tons of opium plundered for free from Afghanistan at the beginning of every summer.”

With Wanat already abandoned, U.S. troops pulled out four days after the attack from COPs Keating and Lowell as well as Observation Post Fritsche in Kamdesh in what was described as a pre-planned withdrawal (Army Times, November 3). Some U.S. forces remain in the Nuristan capital of Parun to protect the governor and the local administration (Asia Times, October 29). Qari Ziaur Rahman, a Taliban commander closely tied to the Arab militants of al-Qaeda, now has effective control of most of Nuristan. The Taliban described the decision to withdraw as “one of the realistic decisions taken by the U.S. Army, which will certainly be followed by similar ones.”

The U.S. withdrawal from its outposts in Nuristan and four others near the South Waziristan border has not been well received in Pakistan, where Pakistani government forces are in the middle of a major military operation designed to eliminate the Taliban terrorist threat in South Waziristan. With the operation having been long encouraged by Washington, Pakistani observers now wonder why an apparent Taliban escape route has been opened along the border with Afghanistan. Pakistani intelligence intercepts are said to reveal that Qari Ziaur Rehman has invited at least one Pakistani Taliban commander to move his operations to Nuristan (The News [Islamabad], October 18). The American withdrawal during Pakistani operations on the other side of the border is a major change from 2008’s Operation Lion Heart, when U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan coordinated with the Pakistani military to put pressure on Taliban groups along both sides of the border.

According to the statement, the Taliban of Nuristan now have their sights set on destroying a U.S. military base in Nuristan’s Nurgram district and three other military bases in the Ghaziabad district of bordering Kunar province. The remaining posts of the “local enemy forces” (i.e. the ANA) “are not considered a big obstacle against the operations of the mujahideen.”

Nuristan, with its remote and inaccessible mountain settlements, provided a refuge for the older religions and languages of Afghanistan. The region was known as Kafiristan (Home of the Unbelievers) until its largely pagan population was converted to Islam after being conquered by Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in 1896. The Nuristanis became famous for their resolute resistance to British and Soviet invaders and have shown their intention to add Americans to the list of unsuccessful occupants of the area. According to the Taliban, “The occupiers themselves have repeatedly said that Afghanistan is the graveyard of the empires and the daily events prove the veracity of their review of historic events.”

This article first appeared in the November 13, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

Karzai Claims Mystery Helicopters Ferrying Taliban to North Afghanistan

Andrew McGregor

November 6, 2009

HelicoptersWhile the Western press has been occupied recently with accounts of fraudulent elections in Afghanistan and the alleged role of President Hamid Karzai’s brother as a paid CIA agent, a stranger but perhaps more instructive story was playing out in Afghanistan that reveals the rather shallow penetration NATO and Coalition efforts have made in building trust and confidence in that country, as well as giving some indication of what can be expected from a Karzai administration that does not sense full support from its former backers in the West as it begins a second term. In addition the controversy demonstrates the very different perceptions of the counterterrorism struggle in the West and in Afghanistan.

For several weeks now, Afghanistan has been consumed by stories of mysterious “foreign helicopters” ferrying Taliban fighters to a new front in northern Afghanistan. These helicopters are alleged by no less than President Karzai to belong to “foreign powers” such as the United States and its allies. The helicopters are said to land in remote regions, but their activity has supposedly been noted by nomads who travel through the deserts of Baghlan and Kunduz province (Hasht-e Sobh, October 13).

Without mentioning guilty parties or offering evidence, President Karzai suggested the reports of helicopters delivering terrorists to north Afghanistan were true, saying, “We have received reliable reports from our intelligence service. We have received reliable reports from our people, and today I received a report that these efforts [to transfer Taliban fighters] are also being made mysteriously in the northwest. The issue of helicopters has also been proved. We do not make any more comments now and investigations are under way to see to whom and to which foreign country these helicopters belong” (Tolo TV, October 11). According to Karzai, the “unknown” helicopters had been taking Taliban fighters to Baghlan, Kunduz and Samangan provinces in northern Afghanistan. The president’s remarks were quickly followed by a call from the Lower House speaker, Muhammad Yunis Qanuni, for a government debate on the issue. “When the president of Afghanistan, as the first man of the country, is raising a fact and a problem, then it shows that the problem is important and serious.” According to Takhar MP Habiba Danesh, the helicopter airlifts were already underway before the elections (Tolo TV [Kabul], October 13;, October 12; Hasht-e Sobh [Kabul], October 13).

Kunduz governor Muhammad Omar claimed the fighters being brought to his province at night were members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a group that recently lost its longtime leader Tahir Yuldash and is now hard pressed by the Pakistani government in South Waziristan, their home since 2001. The governor pointed to the detention of 15 militants by U.S. Special Forces south of Kunduz, whom he described as supporters of the late Tahir Yuldash (Afghan Islamic Press, October 11;, October 13). At the same time, the governor noted the security situation in his province was improving (Tolo TV, October 11). The governor of Baghlan province, Muhammad Akbar Barakzai, also claims to have received intelligence that unidentified military helicopters are making midnight landings in remote areas of his province (Tolo TV, October 21).

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s former rival for the presidency, accuses the Afghan government of being behind the transfer of Taliban fighters to the northern provinces. “They have sent to the north of the country the most evil people, the most notorious and criminal people who are involved in killing the people of Afghanistan and crime against the people of Afghanistan… I have the names of these people; they sent them to the north by helicopters so that they carry out their mission. Is this a government?” (Tolo TV, October 11).

Iran’s state television network, Press TV, sought to exploit the controversy by adding a large number of details to the helicopter story in an October 17 report, all according to unnamed “diplomats”:

• The British Army was responsible for relocating Taliban fighters with Chinook helicopters to the northern provinces from Helmand province in south Afghanistan (though this might come as a surprise to critics of the UK’s Ministry of Defence, who have suggested the military has not provided enough transport helicopters to meet British needs – BBC, August 30).

• The death of Afghan interpreter Sultan Munadi in a  September British Special Forces raid that freed a New York Times reporter from Taliban captivity has already been a controversial issue in Afghanistan, with repeated calls for an inquiry into the circumstances of his death. Press TV claimed Munadi was killed during the raid by a British sniper because he had documents and photographs verifying the British role in the alleged airlift.

• American forces were supplying the Taliban militants in north Afghanistan with weapons seized during the 2001 invasion. Most date back to the era of Soviet occupation.

• Afghan Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar, a British educated Pashtun, was working under the direction of the UK. The Interior Ministry has funneled arms to the newly relocated Taliban through Pashtun police officers. The distribution of arms to Taliban fighters by the Afghan police was also reported by Kabul daily Arman-e Melli on October 13.

Not all Afghan officials believe in the nocturnal activities of the “mystery helicopters.” Amrullah Saleh, the chief of the National Directorate of Security (NDS – the Tajik-dominated national security agency), dismissed the helicopter reports, as did many other members of Afghanistan’s security services. Amrullah maintains that the reports are designed solely with the intention of reducing trust in Western forces engaged in Afghanistan (Hasht-e Sobh, October 13). Even a member of Karzai’s campaign team, MP Nur Akbari, noted diplomatically that the president’s assertions were “unexpected,” saying that security officials had not provided any such information in the past (Hasht-e Sobh, October 13). President Karzai’s endorsement of the “mystery helicopter” theory compelled U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry to issue a clear denial of “the rumors about the reinforcement of the Afghan government’s armed opposition in the north by the U.S.A. These rumors are baseless” (Tolo TV, October 14).

Nevertheless, one Afghan daily reported widespread belief in the “mystery helicopter” phenomenon. “The people strongly believe that these helicopters belong to the British and U.S. forces. They also believe that these helicopters have transferred some armed residents of the neighboring provinces to northern provinces and the killing of several armed men from these areas in the north seem to confirm this issue” (Arman-e Melli [Kabul], October 13).

It was not long before the “mystery helicopters” were seen in Pakistan, where the “foreign allies” of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were alleged to be rescuing Taliban militants from the government offensive in South Waziristan. An Islamabad daily reported the belief of “some experts” that the airlift was part of a deal between the Western nations and the so-called “good Taliban” (Pakistan Observer [Islamabad], October 19).

Existing rumors of a Western airlift of Taliban fighters were no doubt adopted and exploited by the Karzai administration to express its displeasure with the West’s refusal to rubber stamp his election victory, but they mask a more serious problem – how has the Taliban managed to expand its operations in the north and what can be done to stop it before the Taliban is in a position to interfere with vital NATO supply lines that cross the region? By endorsing such rumors, President Karzai appears ready to endanger years of Western civil and military efforts in Afghanistan if he feels it necessary to ensure his domestic political survival.


This article first appeared in the November 6, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor

U.S. Trained “Colonel Imam” Discusses Bin Laden, Stinger Missiles and the Taliban

Andrew McGregor

September 25, 2009

Karachi’s Geo News conducted an interview on September 13 with Colonel Imam, a former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officer who is best known as “the Father of the Taliban” for his crucial role in helping establish the movement in Afghanistan. Colonel Imam’s real name is Amir Sultan Tarar, though he notes “My actual name has been forgotten by the people; I am mostly known as Colonel Imam now… The Afghan people gave me this name because I lead the prayers.”

Colonel ImamAmir Sultan Tarar, a.k.a. “Colonel Imam”

Colonel Imam spoke of his cultural integration into Afghan Pashtun society during his days as an ISI officer, but noted the continued survival of pre-Islamic Pashtun customs; the Pashtuns “have camouflaged the Pashtun culture [with Islam], except the Taliban, who have always practiced Islam in its true spirit. I have observed the Taliban closely; they are very simple, sincere, truthful and strong believers.”

Colonel Imam also recalled his training from U.S. Special Forces at North Carolina’s Fort Bragg in the 1970s. “A visit to the United States was as an incentive given by the Pakistan Army. We would get to study a more refined curriculum with the help of advanced technology. My subject was ‘explosive sabotage’… When I would perform prayers, they would look at me with amazement.”

The former ISI agent described the beginning of his association with Afghanistan in the 1970s, when he was asked by then-Brigadier Nasirullah Babar (later Major General and Interior Minister in the government of Benazir Bhutto) to organize and train Islamic students fleeing from a crackdown by the communist regime in Kabul. Among those trained by Colonel Imam were current Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the late ethnic-Tajik guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Masud and Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The Colonel complains that by 1988, the ISI’s authority over the Afghan mujahideen had been “hijacked” by the United States.

On the controversial issue of the distribution of U.S. supplied Stinger missiles, Colonel Imam denied accusations that he sold some of the stock of 2,000 American Stingers, saying this was done instead by Benazir Bhutto’s government after it had decided to reduce the size of the military mission in Afghanistan. “I was supposed to get the missiles back. We knew those Stinger missiles were being sold in the market. Six missiles were smuggled to Iran and three to North Korea, while the remaining stock was kept by the mujahideen themselves.”

The former ISI operative distanced himself from Osama Bin Laden, particularly during the period surrounding the 9/11 attacks. “He was not in contact with me at that time. It was the Jalalabad operation in 1990 when I last met Bin Laden… He was just an ordinary citizen who would get frightened by the sight of bombing.”

In December 2008, it was reported that Amir Sultan (Colonel Imam) was one of four names of former ISI officials sent by the United States to the U.N. Security Council for inclusion in the Security Council’s list of designated international terrorists (Islam Online, December 4, 2008). Colonel Imam responded, “By blaming the retired people, it is a conspiracy to tighten the noose around Pakistan’s ISI” (AKI, December 9, 2008).

The former ISI official is open about his support for the Taliban but denies that he and retired General Hamid Gul continue to fund the Taliban, saying, “As far as support is concerned, I said in front of Americans at a seminar that I do support the Taliban. I pray for their success but neither I nor General Hamid Gul has the money to give to the Taliban. We are retired people living hand to mouth. This is an electronic age—any transaction can be traced any time. If they have any proof, bring it forward” (AKI, December 9, 2008).

This article first appeared in the September 25, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor