Syed Saleem Shahzad’s ‘Northern Lights’ series in the Asia Times on the Taliban’s strategy and operations in northern Afghanistan is a must read (click for part 1, for part 2, and for part 3). Below is an extended excerpt from part 3 that highlights the activities of al Qaeda and other “foreign fighters” in the Afghan north. The information is based on an interview with a Taliban commander from Baghlan named Mustafa. Note how jihadis from Central Asia are active in the Afghan north, and how al Qaeda is basing itself in Kunduz and setting its sights on Uzbekistan.
“Are the Taliban only Pashtuns?” I asked.
“They are the majority, but the situation is changing a lot. Almost 20% of our people now belong to ethnic Tajik and Uzbek communities living in northern Afghanistan. Our connection is the madrassas. We all studied together, and after the US invasion we convinced them to take part in resistance.”
Mustafa confirmed that a good number of fighters were also coming from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Russia.
“Russia? You mean from Chechnya? I asked.
Mustafa took out his cell-phone and opened it to a picture of a bearded man with long hair and a cap, which made it difficult to distinguish his ethnicity.
“He is Khatab. My friend. He was from Russia. He converted to Islam and joined us for jihad. One year ago, he was killed in battle,” Mustafa said.
I questioned Mustafa on how their ideological counterparts in Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Tajikistan and Russia connected with the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.
“I can tell you that there is an active connection between the Central Asian command and the Taliban in northern Afghanistan and they often join us, but how they connect, this is beyond my level. Our superior commanders are in touch with their counterparts in Central Asia and if somebody arrives in Afghanistan or goes to Central Asia from Afghanistan, it is arranged at a senior leadership level,” Mustafa said.
I tried to turn the discussion to global trends in Islamic militancy, but it appeared this was not Mustafa’s forte. His vision and understanding were limited to northern Afghanistan. He knew al-Qaeda not as strategists, but as fellow jihadis. However, he was clear-headed on two counts; al-Qaeda had established bases in Kunduz province, and the war had to enter Uzbekistan, sooner or later.
“Uzbekistan is the center of all activities against us. All supplies come through Uzbekistan, and all other support for NATO is also from Uzbekistan, and therefore to overwhelm NATO we will have to take our war to Uzbekistan to force them to give up their support to NATO,” Mustafa said in very plain and simple words about a future dimension of the Afghan war.
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