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Taliban attacks sound alarm before Kandahar

Assaults on NATO bases didn't succeed militarily, but might have boosted fighters' morale.

The shift in Taliban tactics is seen in Afghanistan as a psychological assault on the international forces, as well as a shot in the arm for their own supporters.

“The Taliban want to show through these attacks that they are an organized, ambitious and unbeatable force,” said Noorulhaq Ulumi, a parliamentarian from Kandahar and a former military commander. “They want to demonstrate that the Taliban can launch consecutive attacks in different parts of the country and against the most important military bases of the foreign forces.”

Even though the Taliban have almost no chance of significant success in these assaults, they can use them to shore up their image among a population disillusioned by the failure of the central government and weary of foreign occupation.

“The Taliban know how weak and unpopular the Karzai government is, which is why they are getting more and more brazen,” said Ulumi. “The Taliban have never asked for reconciliation, but both the Afghan government and the Americans have been talking about it continuously. So the Taliban think they are stronger than the government and the foreign forces.”

“Reconciliation” is shorthand for peace negotiations with top Taliban leaders, something that President Hamid Karzai has been eager to pursue. He has called a National Consultative Peace Jirga to discuss ways of bringing the Taliban leadership into the government.

The Jirga, which has now been twice postponed, is set to take place in Kabul on June 2. But, given the Taliban’s recent activities, few hold out any great hope that peace is in the air.

“The Taliban have never wanted peace, and now that they are in a better position they have become bolder and are seeking fundamental changes to the country’s political system,” said political analyst and parliamentarian Mohammad Sarwar Jawadi. “ The latest attacks are a frank response to Karzai’s and America’s reconciliation demands.”

The United States has repeatedly said that it supports reconciliation, provided the Taliban lay down their arms, break off ties with Al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan Constitution.

The Taliban seem to be replying, in their own manner, that they also have preconditions for talks — the immediate and total withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, a demand they have constantly reiterated.

But the escalation of force is unlikely to bring benefits to either side, say observers.

“There is no military solution to Afghanistan’s problems,” said Mosazai. “The U.S. troop surge, the new operations, have only made things worse for the people of Afghanistan. The Taliban now are showing that they have a very large pool of potential recruits. Meanwhile, the prospect of a peaceful, stable Afghanistan is growing ever more distant.”

Jamaluddin Temori, a journalist in Kabul, contributed to this report.