Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Taliban rivals unite to fight US troop surge

Saeed Shar, Peshawar

The Guardian, March 3, 2009

Three rival Pakistani Taliban groups have agreed to form a united front against international forces in Afghanistan in a move likely to intensify the insurgency just as thousands of extra US soldiers begin pouring into the country as part of Barack Obama's surge plan.

The Guardian has learned that three of the most powerful warlords in the region have settled their differences and come together under a grouping calling itself Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen, or Council of United Holy Warriors.

Nato officers fear that the new extremist partnership in Waziristan, Pakistan's tribal area, will significantly increase the cross-border influx of fighters and suicide bombers - a move that could undermine the US president's Afghanistan strategy before it is formulated.

The unity among the militants comes after a call by Mullah Omar, the cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban, telling Pakistani militants to stop fighting at home in order to join the battle to "liberate Afghanistan from the occupation forces".

The Pakistani Taliban movement was split between a powerful group led by the warlord Baitullah Mehsud and his bitter rivals, Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur. While Mehsud has targeted Pakistan itself in a campaign of violence and is accused of being behind the assassination of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Nazir and Bahadur sent men to fight alongside other insurgents in Afghanistan.

The move potentially provides short-term relief in Pakistan but imperils Nato forces, especially those stationed in southern and eastern Afghanistan, including the British, close to the Pakistani border.

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