Armed and dangerous: Taliban gear up
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
Times" -- -- KARACHI - Any resistance movement is
generally only as good as the weapons it uses, and that is something
that has bedeviled the poorly-equipped Taliban-led anti-US forces in
Afghanistan for a long time.
The resistance has steadily taken steps, though, to beef up its
arsenal to include modern automatic weapons and ground-to-air
missiles. This it has done in part by forging closer links with the
resistance in Iraq, as well as with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka.
According to intelligence sources who spoke to Asia Times Online,
al-Qaeda concluded that its attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000
was a failure, even though 17 American sailors were killed. As a
result, al-Qaeda sent a team to the LTTE to gain expertise in
maritime combat operations. The LTTE, as part of its longstanding
battle against the Sri Lankan government, has developed a relatively
sophisticated maritime wing.
The interaction was brief and inconclusive, and al-Qaeda
subsequently rejected the idea of maritime combat, deciding instead
to fight the United States on land. Nevertheless, the links
established between the two groups were to prove useful in another
Pakistani intelligence sources say that al-Qaeda now works with the
LTTE to get weapons, including automatic arms and ground-to-air
missiles. The weapons are paid for in cash, as well as in drugs
originating from Afghanistan, according to the sources. The drugs
primarily are sent to Scandinavian countries and Thailand, the
latter being a traditional base from which the LTTE has smuggled
"This is a perfect arrangement as resources are complemented - the
Tigers get ideological support, while regular arms supplies on the
other hand go to al-Qaeda, which ultimately feeds its fronts in Iraq
and Afghanistan," said the source.
"The smuggling channels are the same that the Tamil Tigers have
adopted for years [with international arms cartels]. The latest
weapons originate through arm dealers, as well as those stolen from
arms depots and shipped from South America and Lebanon. They are
transferred from ship to ship and sometimes offloaded at small
ports, and from there, using various channels, they reach the final
destination," the source said.
In the firing line In the mountains and on the plains of
Afghanistan, the resistance operates in several ways, ranging from
suicide bombings to attacking convoys and brief pitched battles.
"But an air defense system [ground-to-air missiles] can break the
back [of the enemy] in low-intensity conflicts," a top Pakistani
security official told Asia Times Online.
"The resistance movement in Afghanistan has now acquired that system
in bulk. There are possibilities that some pieces will also have
been supplied to Iraq. As soon as this system comes into full
action, drastic results will come," he said.
After the Taliban retreated in the face of the US-led invasion of
Afghanistan in late 2001, the Afghan resistance was largely
scattered. The Taliban did preserve some heavy weapons, but these
could not be easily accessed due to the strong US military presence,
and many caches were seized.
Furthermore, some of the armory, especially missiles, required
special storage facilities to prevent exposure to harsh climatic
conditions, but this was not possible, and the weapons were damaged.
Slowly, as the resistance took firmer root and with the help of
money from foreign Arab fighters who had fled to the tribal areas of
South and North Waziristan in Pakistan, the resistance acquired
missiles, guns and ammunition from the indigenous home-made arms
industry at Dara Adam Khel near Peshawar.
However, these arms were of poor quality and simply not good enough
to take on the US-led forces in Afghanistan. For instance, the
home-made M16 rifles were only semi-automatic and the G-3 rifles
lacked the original specifications and accuracy which had made the
original version of the weapon popular. Locally-made rockets did not
fly properly and lacked sensors, which made them all but useless.
Authentic weapons are, of course, expensive. Now the Taliban has
solved this problem by tapping into Afghanistan's - and the world's
- richest cash crop, poppies. Using contacts among the warlords who
control the drug trade, the Taliban are able to divert some of the
money, which is then earmarked for weapons purchases.
With the drug money and the networks of the LTTE, the Afghan
resistance is now well positioned to sufficiently arm itself to take
its war with foreign forces in Afghanistan to a new level.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online. He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd
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