Julius Cavendish: 'Taliban' killings may not be all they seem

Thursday 28 July 2011 00:00 BST

They killed Ahmed Wali Karzai by somehow turning one of his most trusted lieutenants, who then gunned down the Kandahari strongman in a move he must have known would end in certain death. Then Taliban gunmen raided the villa in Kabul where another southern strongman, Jan Mohammad Khan, lived, shooting him dead as he supped with an Afghan MP. Now the Taliban has taken out another Karzai ally, using a suicide bomber who smuggled his explosives past security in his turban.

The three different approaches are symptomatic of the way the Taliban has stepped up its campaign of targeted attacks, matching Nato's own escalation of the Afghanistan war with a troop surge and an unprecedented number of Special Forces raids on Taliban commanders.

According to the UN, the Taliban is relying on suicide bombers more than ever and child soldiers are also taking part in its campaign in greater numbers. Earlier this year, Newsweek reported that the Taliban's head of military operations, Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, had ordered Taliban field commanders out of their safe havens in Pakistan and across the border into Afghanistan.

Analysts say there are a variety of reasons for the spike in Taliban attacks. "What we've seen over the past few months is an increasing tactic on both sides, [Nato] and the Taliban, to try to wage the war through targeted killings," Martine van Bijlert, of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said. "Partially that has an impact in the battlefield and partly on morale and partly it is also to project a certain position of strength. I would think the Taliban is trying to project presence and infiltration and penetration and staying power."

But the truth is murkier than that. It's long been recognised – especially in Kandahar – that the Taliban provide convenient cover for any powerbroker or criminal syndicate to conceal their misdeeds, blaming assassinations on the insurgents when, in fact, they have nothing to do with them. "It's not always clear who is behind all these killings," says Ms van Bijlert. "Looking at all the killings over the past few months, they're all different."

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