Testifying today before a House subcommittee, terrorism expert and Mother Jones contributor Peter Bergen (read him here, here, and here) offered his assessment of where things stand in Afghanistan. His comments make for interesting reading. He’s particularly insightful about how the Taliban has evolved since 9/11. From his written statement:
But this is not your father’s Taliban. Where once the Taliban had banned television, now they boast an active video propaganda operation named Ummat, which posts regular updates to the Web. They court the press and Taliban spokesmen are now available at any time of the day or night to discuss the latest developments. The Taliban had banned poppy growing in 2000; now they kill government forces eradicating poppy fields, and they profit handsomely from the opium trade. The Taliban also offer something that you might find strange, which is rough and ready justice. The Afghan judicial system remains a joke, and so farmers and their families–the vast majority of the population– looking to settle disputes about land, water and grazing rights can find a swift resolution of these problems in a Taliban court. As their influence extends, the Taliban has even set up their own parallel government, and appointed judges and officials in some areas.
The Taliban’s rhetoric is now filled with references to Iraq and Palestine in a manner that mirrors bin Laden’s public statements. They have also adopted the playbook of the Iraqi insurgency wholesale, embracing suicide bombers and IED attacks on US and NATO convoys. The Taliban only began deploying suicide attackers in large numbers after the success of such operations in Iraq had become obvious to all. For the first years after the fall of the Taliban suicide attacks were virtually unknown in Afghanistan, jumping to 17 in 2005 and 123 a year later. Just as suicide bombings in Iraq had had an enormous strategic impact—from pushing the United Nations out of the country to helping spark a civil war—such attacks also have made much of southern Afghanistan a no-go area for both foreigners and for any reconstruction efforts.