Change in Afghan militant tactics raises fears about new help

KABUL, A convoy of U.S. military Humvees snakes its way along a dusty valley road, its occupants unaware they are being filmed from a distant hilltop.


Suddenly, a massive explosion hits one vehicle, flipping it over and
engulfing it in flames.

The images were purported to have been recorded in eastern Afghanistan late
last year and appear on a militant propaganda video CD that gives a graphic
indication of an insurgency that has adopted Iraq-style guerrilla tactics.

The change has raised questions whether local militants are simply emulating
those destructive methods, such as roadside bombings, or if al-Qaida could
be importing fighters from Iraq, where attacks have been considerably more
sophisticated than in Afghanistan.

An alleged Iraqi member of al-Qaida and three others from
Pakistani-controlled Kashmir were caught by Afghan security forces trying to
sneak into Afghanistan from Iran this month and during interrogation said a
large group of fighters from Iraq was headed there, said authorities in
southwestern Nimroz province.

``They're linked to al-Qaida and fought against U.S. forces in Iraq,''
Nimroz Gov. Ghulam Dusthaqir Azad said.

``They have been ordered to come here. Many are suicide attackers.''

His report suggested insurgents on two fronts in the war on terror could be
co-operating to fight the United States and foreign militants operating in
Afghanistan are entering not just from Pakistan as previously thought.

In a videotape Jan. 30, accused terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden's
deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, said al-Qaida was waging war against U.S. forces
in Iraq and Afghanistan and he threatened a new attack in the United States
_ ``God willing, on your own land.''

``Who is pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan, us or you?'' al-Zawahri said
in the tape, addressing Americans.

In October, the U.S. government released a letter purported to be from
al-Zawahri, urging al-Qaida in Iraq chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to expand his
insurgency into neighbouring Muslim countries. Al-Qaida said the letter was

But with the Nov. 9 attack in his Jordanian homeland, al-Zarqawi signalled
he has the capacity to export his suicide-bombing campaign outside Iraq's
borders. Three Iraqis carried out the triple hotel blasts in Amman, killing
60 other people.

Rumours have abounded for months that al-Zarqawi may be going to
Afghanistan, a western diplomat in Kabul said.

A statement posted recently by an anonymous contributor on an Arabic website
used by Islamic radical groups said al-Zarqawi had responded positively to a
call by Taliban leader Mullah Omar to ``liberate the land of Afghanistan
from the infidels.''

The Afghan government's anti-terrorism chief, Gen. Abdul Manan Farahi, said
al-Zarqawi is believed to have trained at an al-Qaida base in Afghanistan
before U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in 2001 but he doubted the terror
leader would return.

``Al-Zarqawi's face is too well known and he doesn't have the support
network he has in Iraq,'' Farahi said in an interview.

``Claims that he's coming to take charge are propaganda aimed at scaring
foreign forces here and their governments back home.''

A western diplomat in Pakistan was also skeptical because of differences
between al-Zarqawi's brand of militancy and that advocated by al-Zawahri,
who is believed to be hiding along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The diplomat said a ``big gulf'' between the two was evident from a
purported letter al-Zawahri sent al-Zarqawi last year in which he argued
against tactics such as bombing mosques and slaughtering hostages, so as to
avoid alienating the masses.

The diplomats in Islamabad and Kabul, both of whom spoke on condition of
anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, also said there was
``nothing concrete'' to prove militants were arriving from Iraq. The U.S.
military in Kabul refused to comment, saying it doesn't discuss intelligence

Any militants who come overland from Iraq would have to travel hundreds of
kilometres through Iran and cross Afghanistan's western border _ far from
the Taliban and al-Qaida stomping grounds in the south and east.

Still, both diplomats and Farahi acknowledged there had been a dramatic
shift in militant tactics toward the style of attacks seen in Iraq _
suggesting some outside influence could be in play.

There have been fewer large-scale, open assaults on foreign troops, which
would usually lead to large numbers of militant casualties and more roadside
bombings _ like the one shown on the video, which was obtained at the
Afghan-Pakistan border.

Most of the footage in the video carries the logo in Arabic and English of
As-Sahab, an al-Qaida video-production company that made some videos by bin
Laden and al-Zawahri. It's not clear if any troops died in the attack.

There have been some 25 suicide bombings in Afghanistan in the last four
months. Before that, such attacks _ commonplace in Iraq and also carried out
by Islamic militants in Pakistan _ were rare in Afghanistan.

Casualties are far lower than in Iraq and the technology appears crude and
available in Afghanistan: simple detonators and explosives recycled from old
landmines or rockets. Car bombs are often loaded with gas canisters and
jerry cans of gasoline to make them more powerful, Farahi said.

``Attacks in Iraq are usually quite sophisticated but not here,'' said the
diplomat in Kabul.

``We've been waiting for a transfer of expertise from Iraq but we just
haven't seen it.''

But at least the attitude required to be a suicide bomber appears new or

The diplomat in Islamabad said the traditional attitude to warfare in
Afghanistan _ where shifting loyalties often determine the outcome of
battles _ is ``to live to fight another day.''

Farahi blamed an arm of the Taliban controlled by al-Qaida for the suicide
attacks. Some of the bombers were Afghans and Arabs but most were
Pakistanis, he said.

About 20 people were arrested recently in Kandahar for suspected links to
the bombings. Many admitted receiving money and explosives in Pakistan,
Afghan officials said.

Von: 16 February 2006 (AP/The Canadian Press)-- (c) 2006 The Canadian Press - BY DANIEL COONEY

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