Taliban Commander: “150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us”

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Taliban Commander: "150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us"

Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Saeed met the Guardian in the barren backcountry of Logar province. Photograph: Andrew Quilty for the Guardian

The Guardian posted an interview with a Taliban commander. According to the interview, this commander leeds 150 Taliban militants in Logar province. He has has fought foreign soldiers and their Afghan allies since the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan when he was 14. The Taliban now controls its largest territory since being forced from power, and seems to have no shortage of recruits.

Referring to Barack Obama’s surge, he said: “150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us.” And an extra 4,000 US soldiers, as Donald Trump will deploy, “will not change the morale of our mujahideen,” he said. “The Americans were walking in our villages, and we pushed them out.” For the Taliban to consider peace, he said, “foreigners must leave, and the constitution must be changed to sharia.”

The commander said that as the war has changed, the Taliban have adjusted, too. US soldiers now predominantly train Afghans, and have ramped up airstrikes.

“It’s true, it has become harder to fight the Americans. But we use suicide bombers, and we will use more of them,” he said. “If the US changes its tactics of fighting, so do we.” That change has meant ever-fiercer attacks, with large truck bombs in populated areas and audacious assaults on military bases.

Pressed on the number of civilian deaths in the war, he said the Taliban “make mistakes” and try to avoid harming civilians, but added: “If there is an infidel in a flock of sheep, you are permitted to attack that flock of sheep.”

The Taliban was always outnumbered and technologically outmatched by its foreign adversaries, but is arguably at its strongest since 2001, threatening several provincial capitals, the interview says. The movement, though, is divided, with some lower-ranking commanders backing rivals of the current chief, Mawlawi Hibatullah, or more radical outfits such as Islamic State. But rifts have not stopped the group from advancing.

The commander claimed: “10-15 people join the mujahideen [in Logar] every day, sometimes also policemen,” adding that mistreatment by government and foreign forces helps recruitment. According to him, many Taliban become suicide bombers after prison, with prison guards torturing detainees by applying air pressure, beatings or electric shock to their genitals. After a detainee is released, he said, the shame is too much to bear.

In a separate interview in the beleaguered Wardak province, another Taliban fighter, who has six years’ frontline experience, told the Guardian he had considered leaving the insurgency and taking his family to Kabul. “But if the Americans come back to Wardak, I will fight them,” he said. He was less cavalier about civilian casualties, which he said damaged the Taliban’s standing with ordinary Afghans, who have become more reluctant to shelter them.

The two militants did agree on one thing: American soft power is as dangerous as uniformed soldiers, especially as US troops have dwindled in numbers. That belief materialised last year when militants stormed the American University in Kabul, killing 16 students and staff members.

“We should kill those teachers who change the minds of society,” the commander said.

He also admitted some relations with Pakistan, though he denied being under anyone’s thumb. “Having relations is one thing, taking orders is something else,” he said. “Every party, if they want to be stronger, need to talk to other countries. We should talk to Iran, and we should talk to Pakistan. Just like the Afghan government goes to India and China.”

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