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Taliban Regains Power, Influence in Afghanistan
Sets Up Courts, Local Governments in Southern Regions


...Senior American military officials said the Taliban run roughly two dozen law courts in southern Afghanistan, one of the armed Islamist group's main strongholds. Drawing on a fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law, the courts work to resolve conflicts over property, grazing rights and inheritances, the officials said. The Taliban have also appointed unofficial governors and mayors to exercise day-to-day control over remote areas, amounting to a parallel government independent of Kabul, according to the U.S. officials.... "In a very real sense, the Taliban has become engaged in competitive state-building with the Afghan government and NATO -- though focusing more on security and justice than reconstruction," said Rand Corp. expert Seth Jones in an email from Afghanistan....


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Taliban Regains Power, Influence in Afghanistan
Sets Up Courts, Local Governments in Southern Regions

YOCHI J. DREAZEN and SIOBHAN GORMAN

combat-10.1221554537.jpg

November 19, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The Taliban are setting up courts and other local-government institutions across southern Afghanistan, challenging U.S. efforts to pacify the country and bolster the authority of the central government in Kabul.

Senior American military officials said the Taliban run roughly two dozen law courts in southern Afghanistan, one of the armed Islamist group's main strongholds. Drawing on a fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic law, the courts work to resolve conflicts over property, grazing rights and inheritances, the officials said.

The Taliban have also appointed unofficial governors and mayors to exercise day-to-day control over remote areas, amounting to a parallel government independent of Kabul, according to the U.S. officials.

"I do see the attempts in many areas by the Taliban to exert intimidation and exert control," Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in remarks Tuesday at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. "They do try to have shadow governors or court systems."

The Taliban have regained control in these pockets despite seven years of American attacks and the presence of more than 50,000 U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops. There are thousands of U.S. and British troops in southern Afghanistan, but American commanders say they don't have enough forces to prevent the Taliban from controlling territory there.

Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S., Said Tayeb Jawad, said in an interview that the Taliban is expanding its reach into Afghans' daily lives.

"It is a disgrace that seven years after the beginning of the military operations in Afghanistan we are seeing a U-turn back to how the situation was before Sept. 11," he said.

U.S. policy makers say they hope the planned infusion of 20,000 additional U.S. forces next year will reverse the trend.

At least 152 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan this year, the most since the war began in 2001. Thousands of Afghan civilians have also been killed.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday that Taliban activity at the local-government level appears to be rising.

The first indications that the Taliban were taking on government functions appeared more than a year ago and picked up this summer, said Henry Crumpton, a former senior CIA and State Department counterterrorism official. He said the functions include running courts and collecting taxes.

Two senior U.S. military officials in Afghanistan said the Taliban created their courts by abolishing the tribal judicial systems that have long settled disputes in poor, conservative regions.

The Taliban used a similar approach in the 1990s, when they rose to power by using force to bring a measure of order to unstable regions of the country.

The officers said the militants threatened tribal leaders in villages and killed those who refused to step aside.

"Taliban 'courts' benefit the Taliban by undermining traditional Afghan social mechanisms for conflict resolution...and replacing them with their own authority based on a radical interpretation of Islam," a senior U.S. military officer in southern Afghanistan said.

The Taliban shadow governments now handle everything from land disputes to divorces, the officers said. In the south, Taliban militants are extorting money -- which they describe as a tax -- from truckers and other merchants who ferry products across provincial boundaries, according to U.S. officials.

"In a very real sense, the Taliban has become engaged in competitive state-building with the Afghan government and NATO -- though focusing more on security and justice than reconstruction," said Rand Corp. expert Seth Jones in an email from Afghanistan.

The U.S. officer in southern Afghanistan said he believed the Taliban would eventually lose support in the remote villages because of their inability to provide basic services such as water and electricity.

Gen. McKiernan said the Taliban "certainly do not bring with them any incentives to a community."

"What they do bring is fear and intimidation," he said.

Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at yochi.dreazen@wsj.com and Siobhan Gorman
at siobhan.gorman@wsj.com






:: Article nr. 48907 sent on 20-nov-2008 10:14 ECT

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