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Taleban defectors 'are rejoining insurgency'

Jerome Starkey

April 22, 2010

Almost a quarter of the low-ranking Taleban commanders lured out of the insurgency in southern Afghanistan have rejoined the fight because of broken government promises and paltry rewards, a scathing report on reintegration claims.

Nato plans to spend more than $1 billion (£648 million) over the next five years tempting Taleban foot soldiers to lay down their arms.

But research by a Kabul-based thinktank warns that those efforts could make matters worse by swelling the ranks of the insurgency, exacerbating village level feuds and fuelling government corruption.

The report, titled Golden Surrender, by the independent Afghanistan Analysts Network, is highly critical of the British-backed Peace and Reconciliation Scheme (PTS), established in 2005, which it says has been left to flounder under bad leadership with neither the political nor the financial capital it required.

It is those rotten foundations on which Nato and the Afghan government must now build as part of its two-pronged negotiation strategy of reaching out to insurgent fighters while offering political accommodation to their ideological masters.

Nato claims there are up to 36,000 Taleban foot soldiers, most of them are fighting in southern Afghanistan. The PTS claims to have reconciled just 646, less than 2 per cent, over five years, including 33 commanders.

"Several of these have reportedly rejoined the insurgency, including a number of low to mid-level commanders who are currently active in Helmand…Uruzgan and Kandahar," the report says.

One man identified as Mullah Mirza was reported to have returned to fight in Marjah, in Helmand, where thousands of US, British and Afghan troops launched Operation Moshtarak earlier this year.

A second commander, identified only as Azizullah, is reportedly fighting in Kajaki, also in Helmand, where British troops are guarding a massive hydroelectric dam. Efforts to repair the dam have been put on hold because engineers cannot get enough concrete through Taleban-held towns nearby.

Two others are fighting in Uruzgan, where US, Dutch and Australian troops are based, and the remaining four are active in Kandahar, the research found. Nato plans to launch a major operation in Kandahar in the summer.

"Most of these commanders were inactive for six to 18 months, waiting for the PTS to deliver on its promises," the report says. "Once it became apparent that no support would be forthcoming they simply rejoined the fight."

The Times was unable to corroborate the report’s findings, partly because Taleban commanders change their names every few months and the eight men referred to are not well known.

But officials in southern Afghanistan said it was known that fighters had reconciled and then reverted to the insurgency in the past.

"During my tenure as governor, two or three times the Taleban came through PTS and then went back to the Government," the former governor of Uruzgan province, Engineer Assadullah Hamdam, told The Times.

Fighters are rarely motivated by money alone, the report says, but a complex mix including status, grievances with the Government, anger at civilian casualties and long-held personal enmities.

Reports of millions of dollars available to lure these people out of the fight risks tempting more people to join the insurgency – albeit temporarily – to benefit. Meanwhile, loyal government supporters "may become resentful, even hostile, if they see resources being channelled to anti‐government groups".

Protecting fighters who opt to swap sides will also prove difficult if the Taleban carry out threats of retribution.

Major General Richard Barrons, who heads Nato’s reintegration taskforce, told The Times last month that Nato would back community defence initiatives, which critics have branded militias, to protect communities who swap sides.

"Until we have grown the police we need a mechanism that delivers security, without fixing all the force that we have now," he said.

"It’s very likely that the Local Defence Initiative will be part of the reintegration solution."

A report by the Afghan NGO Safety Office, which provides independent security advice to charities across Afghanistan, warned that the first such scheme in eastern Afghanistan "not only devastated those areas with inter-tribal conflict but also appears to have ignited a power struggle within [a] neighbouring... district as tribal leaders there vie for a similar deal".

The bleak quarterly assessment warns charity staff to prepare for Nato’s withdrawal by late 2011. "We note that International military forces have made their withdrawal contingent on being able to demonstrate two key… conditions: a degraded armed opposition and an improved government security force," it states.

"We assess, perhaps cynically, that there is an awareness neither of these conditions can be genuinely extant in time and so strategies to create the perception of them are being pursued instead."

:: Article nr. 65325 sent on 23-apr-2010 03:41 ECT


Link: www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/afghanistan/article7104508.ece

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