Thursday, March 01, 2007

Der Spiegel: "The Star of Afghanistan's Jihad"

The author of this article obviously wants you to conclude that the war on terror is going very badly. Perhaps the real lesson is that Pakistan is a lousy ally.
If Osama bin Laden likes being in the global spotlight, he's likely a bit depressed in his hideout these days. The leader of the al-Qaida terrorist organization hasn't made an appearance on the evening news for quite some time. What's more, the Taliban no longer need bin Laden as a figurehead. Western intelligence agencies warn that the Taliban now have "their own star" in their struggle against Western soldiers and the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. The new nightmare from the Hindu Kush Mountains is called Mullah Dadullah. He sports a pitch black beard, always wears a military jacket and these days, he is omnipresent in the media.

Bloodthirsty propaganda is everywhere in northern Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. Virtually every CD salesman in Peshawar is selling the latest films released by the Taliban leader. "Oh, you want the Dadullah tapes," says one. "They're very popular right now." He disappears for barely a minute and then returns with an entire stack. He charges about €3 ($4) per film. Those who buy several get a discount. But he doesn't want his picture taken. He says Pakistani police already causes him enough trouble when they find terror DVDs in the suitcases of journalists at the airport.

The images on these DVDs reveal the Taliban's self confidence and new professionalism. The films herald a bloody spring in Afghanistan, one in which Western troops will face a newly strengthened Taliban army under a re-organized leadership. Well armed and better logistically organized than ever before, the Taliban are preparing for their fight against the hated NATO troops, whose alliance has recently shown signs of internal division. "They say it will be the decisive summer," says a man who occasionally drinks tea with the Taliban commanders.

Western intelligence agencies believe the Taliban have used the winter to thoroughly tighten their organizational structure. Some Taliban commanders are even reporting that Taliban leader Mullah Omar -- who disappeared from the scene entirely for years -- is once again writing letters to his supporters, congratulating successful commanders and the parents of suicide bombers and reminding militants of their "Islamic duties" via audio recordings. For years, one-eyed Omar had disappeared without a trace -- likely afraid of being tracked down by the CIA.

But Mullah Omar seems to be feeling more secure these days -- as does Mullah Dadullah, who only recently outlined his vision for the coming months. Behaving almost like any normal politician, he invited al-Jazeera journalists to visit him in the mountains. His words were alarming despite being full of rhetoric and propaganda. Dadullah said he commands 6,000 men who have volunteered for suicide attacks, and that their offensive is "imminent." He added that some of his men are already set off on their mission, which he described as a "bloodbath for the occupiers." This week's symbolic attack on US Vice President Dick Cheney is reason to fear that Dadullah is issuing more than just empty threats. [...]

Mullah Abdullah [sic] has been a genuine nightmare for the foreign troops and intelligence agencies in Afghanistan for quite some time. The videos are analyzed with a meticulousness that matches their menacing character. "We know from experience that many of his pronouncements are not propaganda," says one Western anti-terrorism agent. "He's carried out most of his threats." Dadullah already threatened a wave of suicide attacks in 2006. No one took him seriously at first. By the end of 2006, the CIA's statisticians counted about 139 such attacks throughout the country -- five times more than in 2005. 2007 could be even bloodier.[...]

Dadullah's merciless violence fascinates many of his younger followers, who already respect him as a great authority. When they kidnapped a South American worker in late 2006, they turned to him for advice. His instructions were clear, and it wasn't long before the hostage's massacred corpse was found. Such violence impresses young would-be holy warriors. [...]

In the fall of 2006, US military officer Chris Cavoli concluded from his experiences in Kunar province that: "Every Afghan killed by a bomb leads to two new militants, regardless of whether the person killed is a civilian or a militant." This means a military offensive against Mullah Dadullah's men would only serve the interests of the new Taliban hero.

"Our sources will never run dry," he says self-confidently in one of his many propaganda films.

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