KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban insurgency has been gaining strength in Afghanistan over past months, prompting the commander of U.S. and NATO forces to call for more troops.
Turning the tide is a key objective for U.S. President Barack Obama, a formidable task when public support for the war is waning among Washington’s NATO allies.
The Taliban have been building their forces in their traditional stronghold in southern and eastern Afghanistan and are increasing attacks in the north and west, hitherto quiet.
There are three main insurgent groups. While coordinating efforts and sharing common goals, they have different command structures and work under separate strategic plans, according to this month’s report by General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.
Below are key facts explaining who is behind these groups.
THE TALIBAN (QST)
The Quetta Shura Taliban are the biggest force fighting NATO-led troops, and are run by a leadership council headed by the reclusive Mullah Omar, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until being driven from Kabul in 2001.
A former imam of a village mosque, Omar founded the Taliban movement in 1994 among puritanical religious students, offering a simple but harsh form of Islamic justice that appealed to many weary of infighting among warlords.
When in power the Taliban banned music and television and forbade women to work or girls to go to school. They were eventually toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan rebels in 2001 after refusing to turn over Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks on the United States.
U.S. commanders believe they now operate from the city of Quetta in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province.
Taliban leaders in Quetta provide funds, military supplies and strategic guidance, including an annual campaign review by Mullah Omar which provides key objectives for his fighters in Afghanistan, U.S. officials say.
The group runs its own governance structure, known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which appoints shadow governors, runs a parallel justice system under Islamic sharia law, and levies taxes. This has won them some support where the Afghan government is seen as ineffective or corrupt, McChrystal says.
The group’s main power base is in southern Afghanistan, where it has been working to gain control over Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city and the Taliban movement’s birthplace.
NATO-led forces have launched big offensives against them this year in neighboring Helmand province, which produces most of the country’s opium.
The group is also spreading its influence in the long-quiet provinces in northern and western Afghanistan, linked to efforts to disrupt new NATO supply routes via Central Asian states.
McChrystal’s assessment says the group derives most of its funds from the drug trade and external donors.
Afghan government sources say they have been trying to reach out to negotiate with some members. The main Taliban leadership says it will not negotiate as long as Western troops remain.
HAQQANI NETWORK (HQN)
HQN is an insurgent group linked to the Taliban. Run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, an elderly veteran resistance leader against Soviet troops in the 1980s, it operates near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan and seeks to regain full control over its traditional bases in Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces.
Leadership of the group has largely passed from the ailing Haqqani to his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, seen by U.S. officials as more radical than his father.
The group maintains a power base in the Pakistani tribal region of North Waziristan, across the border from Khost. Sirajuddin Haqqani told Reuters in March his group was under the overall command of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. U.S. officials believe the movement does not always accept Taliban authority and often acts independently.
The McChrystal report says the group draws most of its resources from Pakistan and Gulf Arab networks as well as its close ties to bin Laden’s al Qaeda.
HEZB-I-ISLAMI GULBUDDIN (HIG)
Run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another veteran guerrilla commander during the Soviet war, HIG maintains its base in Nangarhar, Nuristan, Kapisa and Kunar provinces in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border.
In the 1990s, HIG was blamed for widespread human rights atrocities, a reputation that eventually helped the Taliban gain a broader support base among ordinary Afghans.
Hekmatyar has occasionally distanced himself from the Taliban, and there have been persistent reports his movement would negotiate with the government.
During three decades of war, he has at one point or another been allied to and fought against virtually every other faction in the country, and is seen as likely to negotiate if that is politically opportune.
The McChrystal assessment said HIG has no geographical objectives but seeks to negotiate a major role in a future government and gain control of mineral deposits and smuggling routes. (Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Peter Graff and Jerry Norton)
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