US officer: 'Taliban has strong recruiting base'

On October 9, Prime Minister John Howard declared that David Pearce, an Australian Army trooper killed by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb in Afghanistan, had died for a "just cause" while fighting "brutal terrorism". Pearce's death was only the second combat loss for the 950 Australian soldiers participating in the US-led occupation of Afghanistan. A Special Air Service sergeant died in Afghanistan in February 2002 when his vehicle hit a landmine.

An opinion poll conducted in July for the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney found that 51% of Australians were opposed to Australian involvement in the war in Afghanistan; nearly two-thirds opposed Australian involvement in the Iraq war.

The latest Australian combat death brought total fatalities for the 50,000-strong occupation force in Afghanistan, which includes 25,000 US troops, to 191 so far this year and 707 since the occupation began in late 2001.

While the leaders of the Western powers occupying Afghanistan claim that the Taliban resistance fighters are "terrorists", the US military's Stars & Stripes newspaper reported on October 3 that it had been told by US Army Colonel Jonathan Ives, commander of Task Force Cincinnatus, which is responsible for US operations in northeast Afghanistan, that the Taliban continues to enjoy a "strong recruiting base".

"The Taliban at this time has an established rapport with the community", Ives said, "and sometimes they are seen as being the right answer, or a secure answer, over the unrest that may exist between the criminal elements and/or the power struggles that exist from one to the other or other types of criminal killings".

The Islamic fundamentalist Taliban was created in 1994-95, with Washington's blessing, by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (the country's military intelligence service), and took control of most of Afghanistan in 1996.

The brutally repressive Taliban regime was driven out of Kabul and other Afghan cities in November 2001 after — as the Washington Post's Bob Woodward detailed in his 2002 book Bush at War — the CIA and US Special Forces distributed US$70 million in bribes to buy the loyalty of local Taliban commanders, tribal chieftains and regional warlords.

Since the ouster of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan has re-emerged as the world's biggest supplier of heroin, exports of which account for half of the country's GDP and have fuelled the rise to power of drug lords.

The January 9, 2006 Newsweek reported that Ahmad Wali Karzai, the younger brother of US-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was "alleged to be a major figure" in the drug trade "by nearly every source who described the Afghan network to Newsweek".

"He is the unofficial regional governor of southern Afghanistan and leads the whole trafficking structure", a veteran Afghan interior ministry official told Newsweek.

Discontent with the endemic corruption of Karzai's regime has been a major source of the Taliban's ability to regain a base of popular support.

A Western diplomat in Kabul, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the June 26, 2006, Washington Post: "Nearly five years on, there is no rule of law, no accountability. The Afghans know it is all a charade, and they see us as not only complicit but actively involved."

A report released on March 19 this year by the Brussels-based Senlis Council think tank found that support for the Taliban had skyrocketed in southern Afghanistan over the previous 18 months. The report was based on an opinion survey of 17,000 Afghan men in the Canadian-occupied areas of Kandahar province and in the neighbouring British- and US-occupied provinces of Helmand and Nangarhar.

The survey found that 27% of those polled openly admitted to supporting the Taliban. The pollsters believed actual support was likely higher. In a similar poll conducted in December 2005, only 3% said they supported the Taliban. Fifty-two per cent of those surveyed said that the foreign troops should leave the country.

Associated Press reported on October 7, the sixth anniversary of the beginning of the US bombing campaign against the Taliban: "Wide areas of the south are controlled by the Taliban, and the fighting is migrating north."