The Taliban is in de facto control of an increasing part of Afghanistan, Jason Straziuso and Amir Shah report for the AP.
The Taliban has long operated its own shadow government in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, but its power is now spreading north to the doorstep of Kabul, according to Associated Press interviews with a dozen government officials, analysts, Taliban commanders and Afghan villagers.
More than seven years after the U.S.-led invasion, the Islamic militia is attempting — at least in name — to reconstitute the government by which it ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
Over the past year in Wardak province alone, Taliban fighters have taken over district centers, set up checkpoints on rural highways and captured Afghan soldiers. The Taliban in Wardak has its own governor and military chief, its own pseudo-court system and its own religious leaders who act as judges. Bands of armed militants in beat-up trucks cruise the countryside, dispensing their own justice against accused spies and thieves.
In a growing number of regions, insurgents have put in place:
• Militant commanders who serve as self-described governors and police or military chiefs of provinces.
• A 10 percent “tax” — a forced payment at gunpoint, Western officials say — on rich families, or donations by poorer families of food and shelter for fighters.
• A military draft that forces fighting-age males to join the Taliban for months-long rotations.
• A parallel judicial system run by religious scholars who impose such punishments as tarring, public humiliation and the chopping off hands.
• The closing of Afghan schools or the forcing of schools to replace science with more religious study.
• Manned Taliban or militant checkpoints to demand highway taxes and search vehicles for government employees or foreigners.
The increasing “Talibanization” is taking place in wide areas of countryside where the U.S., NATO and government of Hamid Karzai don’t have enough troops for a permanent presence. Recognizing this, the U.S. plans to send its newest influx of troops in January into Wardak and Logar, right next to Kabul. Between 20,000 and 30,000 new American forces are scheduled to arrive by the summer.
Some Western officials argue that the rise of a shadow government is nothing more than the return of different emboldened warlords. They suspect militants simply stepped in where they saw a void in areas not reached by the Karzai’s government, and it is still not clear if they have a coherent strategy. U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, has noted deep fault lines between Afghan insurgent groups. McKiernan said the Taliban is trying not to govern but to intimidate.
That’s likely a distinction without a difference. If the Taliban is able to intimidate and impose its will over a large swath of territory with little interference from the central government, then they’re running the place. Eleven months ago today, the Atlantic Council warned, “Make no mistake, the international community is not winning in Afghanistan. Unless this reality is understood and action is taken promptly, the future of Afghanistan is bleak, with regional and global impact. ” We’re closer to that future now than we were then.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.