Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 1, 2001
Fresh troops reportedly flock to Taliban
Reinforcements are streaming into Afghanistan from Pakistan, say refugees who recently fled Kabul. 

At War With Terror

NOWABAD, Afghanistan - Fresh Taliban recruits from Pakistan are pouring into Afghanistan to shore up the front lines against a potential attack of anti-Taliban forces, refugees fleeing Kabul said yesterday.

Residents leaving bomb-shattered Kabul for opposition territory said the new Taliban troops began appearing in the capital last week, wearing new uniforms, armed with AK-47s and speaking Pakistani dialects.

Khairullah, a white-bearded trader who traveled five days ago to Pakistan through an illegal border crossing in tribal areas, said that "there were many trucks full of Taliban" crossing the frontier.

"If the United States really wants to destroy the Taliban, they should bomb the Pakistan border," said Khairullah, who was wedged into the back of a jeep that was traveling from frontline positions to Golbahar, a trading center behind the lines of the opposition United Front, or Northern Alliance.

The refugees, thousands of whom have crossed by foot in recent weeks through a mountain gap skirting the front line, also said that mounting civilian casualties in Kabul are eroding support of the U.S. bombing campaign.

"Most of the bombs are hitting civilians," said Khudadada, a produce vendor whose statement prompted nods of agreement and a few protests from the companions in his vehicle. "The people are getting angry at the United States for dropping the bombs."

The accounts by refugees that zealous Muslim extremists are arriving in great numbers in Afghanistan confirms reports that thousands of students from Pakistani religious schools were flocking toward Afghanistan to engage in jihad - holy war - against the United States.

Pakistan, the chief patron of the Taliban and the only nation in the world that still recognizes it as the legitimate Afghan government, has promised the United States that it would close its long border with Afghanistan and discourage the Islamic students from joining the war.

But the border that follows a harsh frontier through tribal areas is not entirely under the control of Pakistan's government and is easy to penetrate.

"There were no questions asked at the border," Khairullah said.

Supporters of the Northern Alliance also believe that significant numbers of Taliban troops could not be crossing into Afghanistan without the knowledge of Pakistani intelligence agents, many of whom sympathize with the Taliban's rigid view of Islam.

"We hear on the radio that thousands people from Pakistan are coming to help the Taliban," said Gulagha, 26. "Why doesn't the United States bomb Pakistan instead of Afghanistan?"

The refugee Kabul residents, interviewed along a dusty dirt road, said that the population of the capital has been slowly depleted in recent weeks as hope disappeared that the bombing campaign would be brief. Most said they were aware that the United States was targeting military installations, but they were concerned because stray or misguided bombs were hitting civilian targets, and the Taliban had devised ways to avoid the brunt of the American bomb attacks by hiding in residential areas.

Some said the Taliban appeared to be gaining confidence.

"A lot of the Taliban sent their families out of Kabul before the bombing, but now they're bringing them back," said Ato Mohammed, 35, who had been unable to return to his home territory in the ethnic Tajik stronghold of the Panjshir Valley because he could not come up with the $40 required to pay various taxis to cross the front lines.

But most said the Taliban was losing some authority and respect with the public, though confidence in the imminent downfall of the Taliban was not strong enough that Kabul residents were prepared to rise up against the Taliban.

"People aren't that scared of the Taliban anymore," said Gulagha. He said Kabul residents had organized themselves into nightly neighborhood watches to prevent Taliban troops from invading and looting houses where the residents had left the city. The patrols don't directly confront the Taliban troops, he said, but they make enough noise that the troops know they are being watched.

"The Taliban is like a watermelon that has softened with time," he said.

Most of the fleeing residents said the bombing in Kabul had failed to accomplish much.

"If the bombs hit Taliban places, it wouldn't be so bad," said Sultan Mohammed, 43, a former military officer who retired to become a street vendor after the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996. "People are getting angry because they (Taliban fighters) are getting away and civilians are dying."

Mohammed, who said all the glass in his house was shattered by the bombing, also said he has seen new recruits from Pakistani religious schools.

He said he had read some of the leaflets dropped from American planes that indicated the United States was fighting terrorism, not Islam.

"If the ground troops come, we can tell them where the Taliban are hidden," said Mohammed. "But how can we communicate that information to those airplanes in the sky?" home page   
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