Taliban controls much of Afghanistan's northwest

An entrance near a suicide bomber’s vehicle at a U.N. compound in Herat, Afghanistan, is secured Saturday. The bomber blew out a gate, but three men in explosives vests were quickly killed.

Associated Press

An entrance near a suicide bomber’s vehicle at a U.N. compound in Herat, Afghanistan, is secured Saturday. The bomber blew out a gate, but three men in explosives vests were quickly killed.

MAQUR, Afghanistan — October has been a calamitous month for the Taliban guerrillas waging war from sandy mountains and pistachio forests in this corner of northwestern Afghanistan.

The first to die was their leader, Mullah Ismail, hunted down and killed by U.S. Special Operations troops. Next came the heir apparent, Mullah Jamaluddin, even before he could take over as Taliban "shadow" governor. Within a week, several other top commanders were dead, a new governor had been captured and the most powerful among the remaining insurgents had lit out for the Turkmenistan border — all casualties of the secretive, midnight work of American commandos.

And yet nearly half of Badghis province remains under insurgent control, an Afghan intelligence official estimated. A new Taliban governor has already been dispatched to the province, Afghan officials say, even though NATO said Mullah Ismail's killing would "significantly reduce Taliban influence throughout the region."

"Fighting in Afghanistan is like hitting coals with a stick, it just spreads to other places," said Delbar Jan Arman, who as provincial governor is trying to stave off the Taliban advances. "It will continue."

The barrage launched against the Taliban by Special Operations forces in recent weeks is part of a broader American effort. As other U.S. goals in Afghanistan have faltered — reforming the government, winning hearts and minds — Gen. David Petraeus and his new troops have so far succeeded at killing their enemies.

Among the insurgents killed in the past month are al-Qaida's No. 3 commander in Afghanistan and 15 shadow governors. Petraeus said mid-level commanders — "the senior leaders aren't in the country, they lead by cellphone" — have expressed frustration at being sacrificed while their bosses live safely across the border.

"It forces them on the run," Petraeus said. "But again, if you don't take away the safe haven, it doesn't have a lasting effect."

Badghis is a sparsely patrolled outpost far from southern Afghanistan's dense concentration of insurgents and NATO troops. Tribes of Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks recruited Taliban fighters to battle foreign and Afghan troops, and one another. Until recently, with the bulk of NATO and Afghan troops elsewhere, the growing threat in Badghis was largely ignored.

The number of Afghan soldiers has increased in Badghis, but many cite U.S. Special Operations raids as the most effective weapon against the Taliban.

"The American operations are very effective: the night raids, the air strikes and ground attacks," said Eidi Mohammed, a Taliban commander in Badghis who recently surrendered to the government. "I was afraid they would come and kill me, too."

Photographer injured: New York Times photographer Joao Silva, 44, was seriously injured when he stepped on a mine Saturday in Kandahar province. Silva was evacuated to Kandahar Air Field where he was receiving treatment, according to the newspaper.

Taliban controls much of Afghanistan's northwest 10/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 23, 2010 11:51pm]

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