A series of “uprisings” by local tribes against the Taliban Islamist terror group in Afghanistan are beginning to spread throughout the country, a sign U.S. and allied efforts to stabilize the country are increasing, according to U.S. officials.
The growing popular opposition began in May and has been detected taking root in eight provinces in the northeast and eastern parts of the country. It is being driven in part by Afghan nationalism and opposition to foreign terrorist support for the Taliban, an Islamist extremist group that took over the country in 1996 and backed the al Qaeda terror group in its attacks against the Untied States.
The Taliban was ousted by the October 2001 U.S. invasion, but remains a potent insurgency that seeks to retake control in Kabul.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai told state television July 17 that the popular uprisings were “of the people,” and a reaction to the Taliban’s “excessive cruelty, destroyed and burned schools, martyred young people and students, and harassed families."
The Taliban uses terror tactics to coerce local tribes and the population generally into supporting its insurgency and opposing U.S., allied and Afghan government forces. It is seeking to reestablish an Islamist state under Sharia law and has set up its own shadow-government system.
The uprisings among local tribes have been seen in Ghazni, Faryab, Kunar, Paktia, Badakhshan, Nuristan, Laghman, and Ghor Provinces.
One major uprising occurred in Laghman Province, in the northeast part of the country, beginning July 17.
An uprising leader, Ghulam Mohammad, was quoted in local press reports as saying the residents are opposing the Taliban because they are “tired of the armed Taliban's tyranny and oppression."
The residents were angered by the Taliban practice of burning schools and killing and poisoning students and teachers. The Taliban also have attacked medical doctors and blocked reconstruction efforts.
A defense official said it was too early to assess the impact of the anti-Taliban movement, but noted that "we're hopeful that a growing number of Afghans have finally had enough of Taliban overreach [and] are tired of being bullied, attacked, and exploited."
"We're watching it closely with cautious optimism, recognizing the local nature of these events," the defense official said, noting the encouraging sign that some news media have promoted the idea of fighting back against the Taliban.
A U.S. official also was cautious about the long-term effect of the movement on the security of the country, and said "both government and uprising leaders have recently weighed in publicly on the issue."
This official noted Karzai's comments on the uprising and promises of Kabul government support.
"Uprising leaders have declared that people were tired of the Taliban's oppression, that they could not longer tolerate the tyranny, and that they wanted to spread the uprising across the country," the official said. "Time will tell if they can pull it off."
On July 20, about 200 tribesmen, some armed with AK-47 assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades, held an uprising in the eastern Afghan town of Alishing against the Taliban, Agence France Presse reported.
"We're fed up with the Taliban and their brutal aggressions against our people," one tribal elder, Ghulam Rasoul, told the news agency.
"We're standing up against them and will not allow them to oppress our people and kill our people," he said.
The news agency quoted a Taliban source as saying the Taliban in the past controlled most of the provinces but is losing ground in Helmand, Kunar, Kandahar, Zabul, and Ghazni.
Other major uprisings were reported in eastern Paktia Province and eastern Nuristan Province, where students revolted against local Taliban insurgents.
In Andar, in southeastern Afghanistan, uprising leader Wali Mohammad was quoted in an Afghan news report as saying “the Taliban have oppressed the people a lot, imposed a lot of restrictions on people's lives, closed schools and markets for the people, and persuaded the people to raise their voices against the government." He asserted: "We could no longer tolerate their tyranny."
Another uprising leader in southeastern Ghazni, Lotfollah Kamran, criticized the Taliban, telling the newspaper Mandegar, "There are Pakistani, Arab, and Chechen militias in the Taliban ranks [as well as] militias from the Wazir and Masud tribes from Quetta, Pakistan." The Taliban carry “Pakistani militia cards” while fighting with foreign terrorists, he said.
The goal of the uprisings is to spread throughout the country, Kamran said.
U.S. officials said not all Afghan tribal leaders are backing the movement. Some have dismissed it as a propaganda effort by the Kabul government and the United States to generate popular support against the Taliban.
If the popular movement spreads, analysts say it could bolster plans for the Obama administration to pull out all U.S. forces by 2014, following a troop surge that began in 2010.
An estimated 130,000 U.S. and allied troops currently are deployed in Afghanistan from 50 nations. About 90,000 of the troops are U.S. forces.
The CIA also has a large covert action force in the country that has been conducting raids, working with special operations commandos, against high-value targets.
Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said in May after a visit to Afghanistan that while Karzai told her the Taliban will not return to power, she was not sure they could be blocked from ultimately returning.
“President Karzai believes that the Taliban will not come back. I'm not so sure,” Feinstein said on CNN. “The Taliban has a shadow system of governors in many provinces. They've gone up north. They've gone to the east. Attacks are up. So they are stronger now.”
The Pentagon’s April 2012 report to Congress on security and stability in Afghanistan stated that despite progress, international efforts to stabilize the country “continued to face both long-term and acute challenges.”
“The Taliban-led insurgency and its al Qaeda affiliates still operate with impunity from sanctuaries in Pakistan,” the report said. “The insurgency’s safe haven in Pakistan, as well as the limited capacity of the Afghan Government, remain the biggest risks to the process of turning security gains into a durable and sustainable Afghanistan.”
The insurgents remain “a resilient and determined enemy and will likely attempt to regain lost ground and influence this spring and summer through assassinations, intimidation, high-profile attacks, and the emplacement of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).”