Taliban's terror tactics reconquer Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

"If we die, we are martyrs - if we live, we are victors," say the Taliban in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province. They have taken control of the area in less than two weeks. For, with ever accelerating speed, the Taliban are reconquering south-west Afghanistan from the government, American and Nato forces sent to fight them.

It took Besmillah, a villager from Panjwai, three hours to get from his home to Kandahar, a journey that usually takes an hour. "There were bodies on the road," he says, "at least 40 bodies - of Afghan soldiers - lying in a place called Yakh Chah [Ice Well], halfway between Shykh Kalandar and the municipality of Panjwai. The Taliban have a madrasa in Shykh Kalandar and they were attacking the municipality from there at first. But now they have taken the whole district. I saw two cars on fire. I had to go through the fields and take side roads to make it to Kandahar."

Panjwai, 30km west of Kandahar, is one of the more prosperous districts in the province. It's been 12 days since the fighting began there. "At first, Canadians were there too," Besmillah says. "But I don't know what happened. They left, and now there is only the Afghan army."

The Taliban have told the district's mayor that he will be left untouched providing he and his men stay where they are and forbid Nato forces permission to enter the area, Besmillah says.

"The Taliban have kept the soldiers' bodies because they have asked for 10 rocket-propelled grenades in return for each corpse," he says. Another account suggests that the Taliban have asked for the release of prisoners in return for the bodies. Temperature this week have been hitting 44C. "The bodies will rot and people will be affected by their smell," he says.

Another man from Pashmoul, Panjwai, who left his home three days ago, says the Taliban had taken over his village too. "The Taliban were hiding there for a long time," he says. "Before, when the American convoys were passing, we used to ask them: 'Why don't you attack them?' They'd say they didn't have enough weapons, or that they hadn't yet received orders," he explains. "But now, no foreigners can pass. Not in convoys or on foot."

Besmillah - many Afghans only have one name - says that the Taliban search everyone on the road. "I went through three Taliban checkpoints and one government checkpoint by the time I made it to Kandahar. The Taliban were in control right up to Solahan, about 25 km west of Kandahar. They look for papers and check the mobile phones. If a number stored in the phone seems suspicious, they call it. And if the voice answers in English, they immediately kill the owner of the mobile. They don't let anyone from outside the villages go into the area."

Besmillah complains that local people are trapped between the Taliban and the government. "The Taliban came and asked us for food. Then the army came and demanded to know why we were feeding the Taliban. We fed the army too. It's our tradition; when someone comes and asks for food, we give it to them. Now it's better that only the Taliban control the area."

Hamid, another villager from Panjwai, says that the Taliban in his district have little money but they have mobile phones. "They are all Afghans. I haven't seen a single outsider among them. But they talk to Pakistan two, three times a day on the phone." Hamid says that the goal of the Taliban is to re-establish their government. "They trust us and tell us a lot of things. They say that once they take Kandahar, they will continue onwards to Kabul till they take all of Afghanistan," he says.

Meanwhile, the Taliban have issued a new law which they have posted on the walls. It says: "We have no courtrooms to take people for questioning. Judgment is made on the road - wherever an infidel is captured. The order is carried out immediately. The punishment for spying for the government and working with foreigners is beheading."

In Helmand province, where the Taliban also control most of the area - except for the municipality - despite the presence of 4,000 British troops, a 70-year-old woman and her son were hanged by the Taliban on charges of spying for the government.