The State of the Military Campaign in Kandahar: A View from Inside the Taliban

The State of the Military Campaign in Kandahar: A View from Inside the TalibanMarch 2011

Introduction: A senior Taliban commander in Kandahar Province has provided Eclipse with his personal views on the state of play in Kandahar Province, based on a series of meetings he had with Taliban field commanders and members of the Commission planning military strategy for the Taliban in the upcoming fighting season. His conclusion is that ISAF military operations have been highly effective in reducing the Taliban capacity to fight in Kandahar; they have lost their armory and are unable to replace it. They have lost their mobility and the commanders cannot persuade their fighters to reenter Kandahar from their winter rest in Balochistan. The effects are not confined to the districts close to Kandahar City; they also feel under pressure in the rest of the province. There is no effective Taliban response – just lots of pressure on fighters to get back into action (which the sensible ones resist) and a half-hearted move to step up the IED campaign. The Quetta-based Taliban leaders are still talking big – but seem to have little appreciation for nor understanding of the facts on the ground in Kandahar.

Below is a slightly edited version of the Taliban commanders written report to Eclipse.

The Taliban have seriously lost their ability to operate in the hilly areas of Arghestan, Maroof, Shahwalikot as well as in the areas round Kandahar. Even in the outlying areas, the ISAF has stepped up its patrolling, and the Taliban now find it hard to operate anywhere. In the current state of affairs the Kandahari Taliban can hardly do more than send out a couple of men to lay an IED. There are no more than ten 10 active Taliban group commanders in Panjwaye District, previously a hub of the insurgency.

The Quetta Shura has sent a few fighters during February to Charbagh, Shahr Kona and Mir Bazaar, but they could not survive in the face of current security measures and now have withdrawn. The numbers of fighters in the field has gone down again.

The well-known commanders who have kept the fight going until now say they are stuck. They find the pressure too much to keep their men in the area round Kandahar. For the moment their main tactic for dealing with the situation is procrastination – telling the Quetta leadership every day that, inshallah, tomorrow their men will return to the front. The truth is that they are actually keeping them in Balochistan for their own survival.

The Pakistani ISI is applying pressure to fight on on the Quetta Shura. The effect has been contrary to ISI desires, and if a space is found for them, it will produce a perverse response from the leadership and make them more prone to pursue a political settlement. If no political settlement that the Taliban can accept is offered, then the Taliban will go into hibernation mode – laying low and waiting out the waiting out the Americans.

Examples of Taliban personnel issues in Kandahar:

a. Matiullah, the commander of the Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor front, spent ten months inside Kandahar in 2010. He is yet to appear in 2011.

b. Mohammad Issa, the Taliban Provincial Governor, went to Quetta for a two-week holiday over Eid Qurban. He never returned and still is in Quetta.

c. Haji Khairullah, a member of the military commission and senior field commander, is shrewd enough to stay mainly in Quetta. In 2010 he spent only three days in Kandahar. Normally he is able to sustain the fight through his network of sub-commanders, but his total force has been massively reduced as a result of the current ISAF pressure. Haji Khairullah is down to six or seven men who only fire potshots from a long distance away or lay an IED.

d. Mullah Sattar Darvesh is affiliated to Hafiz Majeed. He is down to only two groups.

e. Mullah Mahmood, an old commander of Mullah Borjan, is down to two or three groups.

f. Mullah Daud, alias Sakhi Dad, affiliated to Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, is down to three or four men in Kandahar. He used to have 12 groups, and his men are all sitting idle in Kuchlaq.

g. During 2010, Hafiz Ahmad Jan, affiliated to Mohammad Issa, was in charge of assassinations. He has left Kandahar and it is not clear who will replace him, and when.

Logistics: The winter search operations have cost the Taliban some 80 percent of their stored weaponry. Much of the materiel had been hidden in Panjwaye. Commander Daud complains to Quetta that “they have taken all our weapons. Now a PK machine gun costs PKR 300,000 and an AK-47 for PKR 70,000. We cannot buy these every day.” Ammunition prices are up : PKR 2,500 per rocket round and PKR 25 per AK-47 round of ammunition. Daud described ISAF troops conducting three successive raids on his house before they located his weapons; they were obviously acting on the basis of good intelligence. Mawlvi Mahmood, the brother of Khairullah was arrested. He lives in between Zangiabad and Taloqan. He obviously talked and the ISAF came back to raid his compound and dug up three barrels of munitions which had been buried there. The only response the Taliban hase is to try to resupply ingredients for IED production. In early March 2011, Chaman Matiullah organized a distribution of fertilizer for the commanders. In 2010 they handed out 10 sacks each when they did a distribution. Now Matiullah has increased the allocation to 20 sacks for each commander – because it is all they have.

Relationship of special attacks to the chain of command:

According to Matiullah, suicide bombers and other special attacks are organized entirely outside the Taliban chain of command through the Quetta Shura. Even the most experienced field commanders have no knowledge of the organization of these attacks nor is involved in their execution. Commanders may nominate targets to the military commission in Quetta, but they never see who carries out the attacks or know who tasks them. The field commanders have heard that the confessions from the occasional survivor of these special teams talk of being trained in madrassas but never have any credible claim about the role of the Taliban; the commanders strongly suspect that there is a parallel chain of command outside the Taliban organization, and speculate that it may be either the ISI or al-Qaeda.