Routed Taliban gear up for guerrilla war

ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan's Taliban are fighting for its survival and gearing for a protracted guerrilla war from the rugged mountains and caves, analysts said Tuesday.

They added, however, that if the Taliban were falling back on a strategy used so successfully against Soviet forces two decades ago, they may have trouble sustaining it for lack of support from the outside world.

In a series of stunning reversals, the opposition Northern Alliance backed by US warplanes has swept the Taliban forces from virtually all of northern Afghanistan and Kabul.

The Taliban now appear to be moving into a patch of the country dominated by the ethnic Pashtun stretching from the east of Kabul southward through the mountains and down to the southern plains, a well-informed Taliban source said.

"War in Afghanistan is not fought in cities and towns. The decisive war is fought in the mountains and caves and they are under our control," said the source, who asked not to be named.

"We have already moved weapons, essential food items and heads of cattle to safer sites in mountains from where we will fight."

Riffat Hussain, head of the Department of Strategic Studies at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University, said the same tactics helped the Afghan mujahideen end 10 years of Soviet occupation in 1989.

"The Taliban retreat from Kabul with all their human and military assets intact marks the beginning of the new phase of this war which will be fought along the guerrilla warfare lines," Hussain said. "This phase can be interminably long."

While hunkering down in the mountains, caves and rural towns, the Taliban are also buying time to see if the Northern Alliance, an uneasy coalition of mostly ethnic minorities, will explode into a new round of infighting.

"The Taliban would like to take advantage of the possible contradictions within the Northern Alliance," said Hussain. "The Northern Alliance knows that they are a house divided."

But unlike the mujahideen, who were able to benefit from considerable material support from the United States and other anti-Soviet countries, the Taliban will find themselves alone this time, analysts said.

"This is going to be tough for them because they are fighting against the whole world," said former Afghan general Shanawaz Tani, who served under the communist ruler Najibullah slain by the Taliban in 1996.

"Previously, the Afghan mujahideen were getting arms and aid from the world against the Soviets," Tani said. "This is not the case now and how long the Taliban can survive on their own is difficult to predict."

Tani said the Taliban would probably try to occupy the heights overlooking Kabul from the west and divide the rest of its forces among three Pashtun-dominated military zones already defined in Afghanistan.

One is on the western heights overlooking Kabul, a second runs through the south-central mountains and the third is in the southern plains where the Taliban spiritual home of Kandahar is situated.

But the former Afghan general said that even here, the Islamic militia cannot be sure of local support. "There are internal differences among the tribal chieftans which can create some serious trouble for them," he said.
( AFP )