Factbox: Afghanistan: Who is fighting the insurgency?

Sun Jul 18, 2010 10:28am EDT

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July 18 - Afghan government, backed by thousands of international force are fighting a growing insurgency in Afghanistan since the Islamist movement was toppled by U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces in late 2001 in the wake of September 11 attacks on the United States.

Despite repeated peace overtures by President Hamid Karzai to Taliban and other insurgent groups, only the Hezb-i-Islami movement has shown interest, sending their delegates to meet Afghan officials in Kabul earlier this year. However, there was no breakthrough.

In a major international conference this week in Kabul, one of the main themes of Afghan government will be to boost its reintegration efforts to woo low-level fighters who make up the backbone of Taliban insurgency.

There are three main militant groups in the country that lead a bloody insurgency campaign against the Afghan government and around 150,000 foreign troops under NATO's command.

There are now some 20,000 to 30,000 active fighters within their ranks, according to a government official.

TALIBAN

A Talib, singular form for Taliban means a religious student. The group rose to power in 1994 in southern city of Kandahar under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar who was then imam of a village mosque.

The puritan religious student mostly drawn from seminaries, run in the lawless tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan offered a simple but harsh form of Islamic Justice that appealed to many who were weary of brutal warlords who ignited a bloody civil when the Soviets departed from Afghanistan in 1989.

After years of factional fighting among the anti-Soviet groups over power, Mullah Omar's young and fanatical fighters managed to capture Kabul in September 1996 where they imposed ultra strict Islamic sharia by banning music, TV and forbidding women to work and girls to school.

After being toppled in 2001, most of the leaders, including Mullah Omar, fled to Pakistan where they formed a council called "Quetta Shura," a Pakistani city in the province of Balochistan.

The Taliban began to regroup in the south then relaunched their insurgency in 2005 with a wave of guerrilla attacks, suicide and roadside bombs that has grown steadily ever since.

Violence in the country has sharpened, threatening thousands of NATO and bulk of Afghan troops into a stalemate.

Karzai's idea of peace negotiations to reach out to insurgents who denounce violence and accept Afghan constitution has the backing of international community, but the Taliban have repeatedly rejected the offer, saying foreign troops should leave the country before start of any peace talks.

HAQQANI NETWORK

Headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Haqqani network is allied with the Taliban and is believed to have close links to al Qaeda. It has been behind several high-profile attacks in Afghanistan including an assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai during a military parade in 2008, and last month attacked a major peace assembly.

Although the attacks caused no serious casualties, President Karzai sacked his interior and intelligence agency chiefs over security lapses.

Haqqani rose to prominence during the 1980s, receiving weapons and funds from the CIA and Saudi Arabia to fight the Soviet occupation and has also had long-standing links with Pakistan's military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Effective leadership of the group has now passed from Jalaluddin, who is in his 70s, to his more radical eldest son Sirajuddin, security analysts say.

Sirajuddin told Reuters last year that his group, mainly active in the eastern parts of Afghanistan and based in the North Waziristan of Pakistan, was under the overall command of Mullah Omar and admitted ties with al Qaeda.

HEZB-I-ISLAMI

Hezb-i-Islami or the Islamic Party was founded by veteran former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in mid 1970s was one of the main mujahideen groups fighting the Soviet invasion in the 1980s from its base in Pakistan. It received the lion's share of U.S. and Saudi arms and money channeled through the Pakistani intelligence service.

After the Soviet withdrawal Hekmatyar fought and made fleeting alliances with most other mujahideen factions during the resulting civil war and is blamed for killing thousands in Kabul with indiscriminate rocket attacks on the capital.

By the rise of the Taliban in 1994, Hekmatyar was sidelined by Pakistan in favor of Mullah Omar and after losing to their forces when the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Hekmatyar fled to Iran.

Many of his fighters joined the Taliban ranks. He served briefly as prime minister in 1996 before the Taliban took control.

After the September 11 attacks Hekmatyar declared himself against the U.S. invasion and took up the fight in alliance with the Taliban. Its fighters number in thousands are most active in the east of the country and in pockets in the north.

In March this year, a high-profile Hezb delegation met Karzai and a U.N. special envoy in Kabul. Although the talks appeared to be preliminary, the public acknowledgement of meeting was unprecedented and could signal a division within the insurgency.

An Afghan army general, Murad Ali Murad, told Reuters this month that members of Hezb was supplying intelligence on Taliban whereabouts to NATO and the Afghan government that led to the killing or arrest of several key commanders in the north.

(For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here) (Compiled by the Kabul Bureau; Editing by David Fox) (hamid.shalizi@thomsonreuters.com; +93 799 390 693

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