By Arun Anand

The Taliban Story: How Taliban regrouped took the war to the Allied camp (Part 24)
Source: DNA India

This is the 24th part of the series on ‘The Taliban’. You can share your feedback at [email protected]. Here is the 24th part-

It didn’t take too long for Taliban to regroup and make a comeback. Within few months of being ousted from power, Taliban started a recruitment drive under the patronage of ISI from its safe havens in Pakistan where they were provided safe sanctuary by Pakistan.

Small mobile training camps were established along the border with Pakistan by Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives to train recruits in guerrilla warfare and terror tactics. Most of the recruits were drawn from the madrassas of the tribal areas of Pakistan, from which the Taliban had originally arisen. Bases, some with as many as 200 men, were created in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan.8

The Pakistan paramilitary forces posted at the border posts looked the other way ignoring this infiltration and movement across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan military operations also ignored the presence of Taliban and their new recruitment drive on their own land.

The Taliban gradually reorganised and reconstituted their forces. They established a new mode of operation: forming groups of around 5o to launch attacks on isolated posts and convoys of Afghan soldiers, police or militia and then breaking up into groups of 5-10 men to evade subsequent offensives. US forces were attacked indirectly through rocket attacks on bases and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). To coordinate the strategy Mullah Omar named 10-man leadership council..with himself as the head. Five operational zones were created and assigned to various Taliban commanders. 2

From 2002 to 2005, the Taliban rebuilt its cadres with drug money, charity from donors in Gulf states and help from Al Qaeda.3 The ISI also played a key role by providing ground support in terms of logistics and ensuring their safety from the CIA and US forces who were hunting both Al Qaeda and Taliban. Their sanctuaries in Pakistan enabled them to rearm, refit and retrain. By 2005, the Quetta Shura led by Mullah Mohammad Omar; the Hezb-i-islami Gulbuddin, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the Haqqni Network, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin, were working together to subvert the Karzai regime and wear down the coalition. All three groups had nominal allegiance to Mullah Omar and coordinated major plans, but continued as distinct operational entities with their own territories of interest in Afghanistan as well as fundraising mechanisms.4

By 2005, the inadequacies of Karzai government and the allies’ strategy of not having too many forces on the ground, termed as “light footprint”, helped Taliban to crawl back in such a way that it had started exercising shadow control over many districts and provinces. The alarm bells should have started ringing by then but they didn’t as ISI was feeding misinformation to the CIA and there was lack of coordination between the various US agencies and allied forces. In fact, many of them were working at cross purposes.

By 2009, there were shadow Taliban governments in nearly all provinces, although many had little real influence and not all of them lived in the designated provinces. Even in areas dominated by the Afghan government or tribes which were friendly to the government, Taliban was able to carry out its operations against the government, US and allied forces.

In 2005, Taliban began a nationwide offensive to spread its influence. From 2004 to 2009, there was a nine-fold increase in security related incidents and 40 per cent increase in suicide bombings across Afghanistan.

Conflict spread to most of the 34 Afghan provinces, but 71 per cent of the security incidents till 2010 took place in only 10 per cent of 400 districts nationwide. The war in Afghanistan continued over control of Pashtun areas in the eastern and southern portion of the country, but Taliban subversion and terrorism became important factors in many provinces. Efforts to combat narcotics growth and production generally failed or met with temporary success. Corruption inside Afghanistan as well as Taliban revenue increased accordingly.5

During the comeback that Taliban was trying to make, it extensively used IEDs. The number of IEDs strikes went up from 300 in 2004 to more than 4000 in 2009. By the summer of 2010, more than half of all US fatalities in Afghanistan were from IEDs. Suicide bombers, almost unknown before 2004 became commonplace.6

Colonel Harjeet Singh says in ‘Understanding Operation Enduring Freedom’, “Beginning in 2005, the Taliban added more sophisticated information operations and local subversion to their standard terrorist tactics.”

In addition to the subversion, terror tactics remained standard operating procedure for Taliban. In October 2008, for example, the Taliban stopped a bus in the town of Maiwand, forcibly removed 50 passengers and beheaded 30 of them. The first sign that Taliban forces were regrouping came on 27 January 2003…when a band of fighters allied with the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami were discovered and assaulted by US forces at Adi Ghar cave complex 24 kilometres north of Spin Boldak. 18 rebels were reported killed and no US casualties reported. The site was suspected to be a base to funnel supplies and fighters from Pakistan. The first isolated attacks by relatively large Taliban bands on Afghan targets also appeared around the time.7

As the summer continued, the attacks gradually increased in frequency in the Taliban heartland. Dozens of Afghan government soldiers, NGOs and humanitarian workers and several US soldiers died in the raids, ambushes and rocket attacks. Besides guerrilla attacks, the Taliban began building up their forces in the district of Dai Chopan, in Zabul province that also straddles Kandahar and Uruzgan and is at the very centre of Taliban heartland. Dai Chopan district is a remote and sparsely populated corner of south-eastern Afghanistan with towering Rocky Mountains interspersed with narrow gorges; perfect area to make a stand against the Afghan government and the coalition forces. Over the course of the summer, perhaps the largest concentration of Taliban militants gathered in the area since the fall of the regime, with upto 1000 guerrillas regrouping. Over 220 people, including several dozen Afghan police personnel, were killed in August 2003 as the Taliban gained strength. As a result, coalition forces began offensives to root out the rebel forces. In late August 2005, Afghan government forces backed by US troops and heavy American aerial bombardment advanced upon Taliban positions within the mountain fortress. After a one-week battle, Taliban forces were routed with 124 of its fighters getting killed.8

Even as Taliban continued to expand its area of influence in Afghanistan, the US was too busy with the Iraq war which started in 2003. From 2003 to 2007, Afghanistan fell off the US’ radar and was no more a priority. This provided an opportunity to Taliban to regroup. It wasn’t till mid-2007 when after stabilising the situation in Iraq, the US turned back its attention to Afghanistan and started sending more troops there. By 2010, US troops numbered around 1,00,000 in Afghanistan. But precious time had been lost and Taliban had regrouped and came back with greater ferocity and tenacity. Its tactics had also vastly improved.

One hundred fifty-five Americans lost their lives in Afghan war during 2008, an increase of about a third from the previous year. British, Canadian and other NATO casualties also rose to their highest levels since the war began… The Taliban mounted some 3867 IED attacks during 2008, an increase of almost 50 per cent over the previous year. Just as had been the case for Soviet forces during the 1980s, the improvised bombs and mines forced NATO to restrict its movements, tempted forward commanders to hunker down on bases, and left platoons to struggle with the random devastation the bombs inflicted on comrades who lost legs, arms and lives.9

(To be continued)


  1. Understanding Operation Enduring Freedom by Col Harjeet Singh (Pp112)
  2. Understanding Operation Enduring Freedom by Col Harjeet Singh (Pp112)
  3. Understanding Operation Enduring Freedom by Col Harjeet Singh (Pp113)
  4. Understanding Operation Enduring Freedom by Col Harjeet Singh (Pp113)
  5. Understanding Operation Enduring Freedom by Col Harjeet Singh (Pp113)
  6. Understanding Operation Enduring Freedom by Col Harjeet Singh (Pp113)
  7. Understanding Operation Enduring Freedom by Col Harjeet Singh (Pp114)
  8. Understanding Operation Enduring Freedom by Col Harjeet Singh (Pp114-115)
  9. Directorate S by Steve Coll (Pp323)