Defections are turning Taliban against itself


Taliban insurgents fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been hit by a wave of defections and betrayals that has resulted in a witch-hunt within the militant movement.

The news has boosted morale among commanders of the Nato operation in Afghanistan, which includes more than 6,000 British soldiers. The British contingent has struggled to contain the insurgency in the country's southern provinces over the past 18 months. Last week saw renewed violence with a series of suicide bombings.

However, two of the Taliban's most senior commanders have now been killed after being betrayed by close associates. Up to a dozen middle-ranking commanders have died in airstrikes or other operations by Afghan, Nato or Pakistani forces based on precise details of their movements received from informers. Few details have been publicly released, but senior military sources speak of 'major hits' that they wish they could talk about openly.

The successes may be the result of the more sophisticated strategy now employed by coalition, Afghan and Pakistani forces, say observers.

'There have been desultory efforts over several years to penetrate the Taliban and to play off the various factions within the militancy and along the frontier against each other, but now that has become the keystone of the intelligence effort,' said one Pakistan-based source. 'That's paying off.'

Last week three Central Asian militants were killed in a Pakistani army operation against makeshift training camps and Nato airstrikes in western Afghanistan are thought to have wiped out a dozen mid-ranking Taliban members returning from a meeting.

'There is a feeling that there are spies everywhere,' said one tribal leader speaking by telephone from the violent and anarchic North Waziristan 'tribal agency' along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. 'People are very worried and no one is trusting anyone any more.'

This situation has great potential for fostering self inflicted wounds on the Taliban. Our forces can plant evidence of cooperation on loyal Taliban, for example and they will become suspect and may even be treated to the Taliban's "special" way of dealing with perceived traitors. It will also hamper the already questionable command and control ability of the Taliban. This is looking like a serious problem for them.


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