More foreign fighters in Afghanistan insurgency: US
* NATO general says no evidence to link inflow of foreign ‘jihadists’ to elements in Iran
KABUL: Insurgents in Afghanistan are fighting harder and there are more foreign extremists in the battlefield, the top international commander in the country told AFP.
But there is no evidence to link the inflow of foreign “jihadists” to elements in Iran and in Iraq that may want to stir things up here, said US General Dan McNeill, head of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. “For some number of weeks now I have watched with interest the increased number of foreign fighters that we have seen on the battlefield opposing us but I can’t connect that to Iraq yet,” he said in an interview Sunday.
There have been claims that battle-hardened fighters in Iraq are influencing the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan where rebel tactics, such as suicide bombings, echo those used with more devastating effect in the Iraqi violence. McNeill described these foreign fighters, whom he could not quantify, as “a lot more extreme than your typical Taliban extremist.”
“These days we’re seeing some improved tactics, they are fighting a little harder and maybe a little better,” added the general who commands 35,500 soldiers from 37 nations. “Some of them are foreigners, of Asian or Arabic descent. We have both captured and killed some of those. But I don’t have anything clear that says the Iranians are doing this,” he said. The discovery of Iranian-made weapons in Afghanistan and destined for the Taliban has raised alarm about Tehran’s possible involvement in the complex insurgency, which has intensified into the summer. Weapons probably of Iranian origin had been found on the battlefield and in a convoy intercepted this year which contained munitions and a plastic explosive dressed up to look like a US-made version and used in Iraq, McNeill said.
There was no evidence to suggest the weapons were supplied by the government but, “We keep our systems tuned up to see any kind of change on the battlefield - weapons, munitions, techniques, tactics, people.” In some cases the Taliban insurgents have appeared “compelled to fight by some of these foreign fighters” and to be more organised in their presence, he said. But the character of the Taliban was difficult to pin down, the 61-year-old commander said at the ISAF compound in central Kabul. Estimates of its size ranged from 5,000 to more than 20,000, he said. It was made up of tiers of men, from the hardcore and extreme who may be based outside the country to fierce nationalists and then opportunists just looking to earn some cash.
In this grouping were some who may be persuaded to join the internationally sponsored move towards democracy Afghanistan signed up to after the Taliban government was driven from power in 2001 for sheltering Al Qaeda. The Afghan government and “some significant international entities”, but not ISAF, were in dialogue with the Taliban, said McNeill, who took charge of ISAF in February. The numbers of Taliban involved could reach into the hundreds, he said. “Who knows, before the end of summer we may see a lot more come over,” he said. afp