Taliban acting more like al Qaeda
The Taliban has merged its propaganda and field operations with those of the global al Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden, say senior Afghan officials and the group's former leaders.Al Qaeda has had success at propaganda and media campaigns and most of its attacks are media events rather than substantive military events. Militarily they are not significant. The Taliban has become an even less effective military organization in the last two years and its human bomb attacks have further alienated it from the people of Afghanistan. What the story really reveals is just how dependent the Taliban have become on al Qaeda. Financially they are probably totally dependent at this time with the exception of the drug money they siphon from the poppy farmers. They are both strapped for cash and the Taliban's strategy against NATO has been a dismal failure.
Afghan security officials say the association has enabled the Taliban to develop from a xenophobic, home-grown Islamist movement into a more outward looking force that is helping to advance al Qaeda's global interests.
While there is no evidence the movement that ruled Afghanistan until it was ousted in 2001 has abandoned any of the fanaticism that led it to ban singing, shaving and schooling for girls, the group appears to have fed off the larger global jihad to hone previously nonexistent media skills as well as new fighting tactics.
"The Taliban have changed immensely in the last year due to the mentoring they are getting from leading Arab jihadists in Pakistan with al Qaeda, both in the realm of battlefield tactics and media operations," said Lutfullah Mashal, a senior official in Afghanistan's National Security Council.
"They are doing what works in Iraq and often succeeding," said Mr. Mashal, who as director of strategic communications designs media operations to oppose the Taliban.
A former leading Taliban official who recently spent four years in the U.S. government's Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba and is living under house arrest in Kabul agreed that the movement is increasingly media savvy.
"When the Taliban were in power, they were not focused on this important thing, but they have learned from al Qaeda the importance of media in their operations," said Abdul Salam Zaeef, the group's once outspoken ambassador to Pakistan.
Afghan and Western analysts familiar with the changing face of the Taliban say the local movement is gaining sustenance through recruiting, propaganda and tactics such as suicide bombing. The strategy is gleaned from the godfathers of the global jihad -- bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri -- and from battlefield skills honed in Iraq.
Before his violent death this month at the hands of Afghan and U.S. Special Forces, the Taliban's military commander, Mullah Dadullah, claimed that the Taliban's planning and operations were one and the same with those of al Qaeda.
Afghan officials also said the Taliban's suicide bombing attacks in Kabul and other large cities were approved in advance by senior al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.