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Taliban Defectors 'Are Rejoining Insurgency'

Jerome Starkey in Kabul

One defector is reported to have returned to Helmand, where Coalition troops launched Operation Moshtarak earlier this year. (MoD/EPA)

Almost a quarter of the low-ranking Taleban commanders lured out of the
insurgency in southern Afghanistan have rejoined the fight because of broken
government promises and paltry rewards, a scathing report on reintegration

Nato plans to spend more than $1 billion (£648 million) over the next five
years tempting Taleban foot soldiers to lay down their arms.

But research by a Kabul-based thinktank warns that those efforts could make
matters worse by swelling the ranks of the insurgency, exacerbating village
level feuds and fuelling government corruption.

The report, titled Golden Surrender, by the independent Afghanistan
Analysts Network, is highly critical of the British-backed Peace and
Reconciliation Scheme (PTS), established in 2005, which it says has been
left to flounder under bad leadership with neither the political nor the
financial capital it required.

It is those rotten foundations on which Nato and the Afghan government must
now build as part of its two-pronged negotiation strategy of reaching out to
insurgent fighters while offering political accommodation to their
ideological masters.

Nato claims there are up to 36,000 Taleban foot soldiers, most of them are
fighting in southern Afghanistan. The PTS claims to have reconciled just
646, less than 2 per cent, over five years, including 33 commanders.

"Several of these have reportedly rejoined the insurgency, including a number
of low to mid-level commanders who are currently active in Helmand...Uruzgan
and Kandahar," the report says.

One man identified as Mullah Mirza was reported to have returned to fight in
Marjah, in Helmand, where thousands of US, British and Afghan troops
launched Operation Moshtarak earlier this year.

A second commander, identified only as Azizullah, is reportedly fighting in
Kajaki, also in Helmand, where British troops are repairing a massive
hydroelectric dam. Their efforts have been put on hold because engineers
cannot get enough concrete through Taleban-held towns nearby.

Two others are fighting in Uruzgan, where US, Dutch and Australian troops are
based, and the remaining four are active in Kandahar, the research found.
Nato plans to launch a major operation in Kandahar in the summer.

"Most of these commanders were inactive for six to 18 months, waiting for the
PTS to deliver on its promises," the report says. "Once it became apparent
that no support would be forthcoming they simply rejoined the fight."

The Times was unable to corroborate the report's findings, partly
because Taleban commanders change their names every few months and the eight
men referred to are not well known.


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But officials in southern Afghanistan said it was known that fighters had
reconciled and then reverted to the insurgency in the past.

"During my tenure as governor, two or three times the Taleban came through PTS
and then went back to the Government," the former governor of Uruzgan
province, Engineer Assadullah Hamdam, told The Times.

Fighters are rarely motivated by money alone, the report says, but a complex
mix including status, grievances with the Government, anger at civilian
casualties and long-held personal enmities.

Reports of millions of dollars available to lure these people out of the fight
risks tempting more people to join the insurgency - albeit temporarily - to
benefit. Meanwhile, loyal government supporters "may become resentful, even
hostile, if they see resources being channelled to anti‐government groups".

Protecting fighters who opt to swap sides will also prove difficult if the
Taleban carry out threats of retribution.

Major General Richard Barrons, who heads Nato's reintegration taskforce, told The
last month that Nato would back community defence initiatives,
which critics have branded militias, to protect communities who swap sides.

"Until we have grown the police we need a mechanism that delivers security,
without fixing all the force that we have now," he said.

"It's very likely that the Local Defence Initiative will be part of the
reintegration solution."

A report by the Afghan NGO Safety Office, which provides independent security
advice to charities across Afghanistan, warned that the first such scheme in
eastern Afghanistan "not only devastated those areas with inter-tribal
conflict but also appears to have ignited a power struggle within [a]
neighbouring... district as tribal leaders there vie for a similar deal".

The bleak quarterly assessment warns charity staff to prepare for Nato's
withdrawal by late 2011. "We note that International military forces have
made their withdrawal contingent on being able to demonstrate two key...
conditions: a degraded armed opposition and an improved government security
force," it states.

"We assess, perhaps cynically, that there is an awareness neither of these
conditions can be genuinely extant in time and so strategies to create the
perception of them are being pursued instead."

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