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Sunday, February 22, 2004  
Springtime for Khost and the Taliban

As spring approaches, the Afghan resistance, singularly unaffected by joint US and Pakistan offensives earlier this year, prepares for its own battle to retake the cities and expel the Western occupiers.

Khost, on the Eastern Afghan-Pakistan border, is the first target marked by the two resistance leaders Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani (an iconic ex-colonel) and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (HIA head and the Pakistan president originally ousted by the Taliban). The resistance coalition (comprising Taliban fighters, foreign jihadists and the HIA) has been liaising with local warlords and tribal chiefs who control the areas around Khost and have agreed to either support the offensive or remain neutral.

NATO forces are concentrated along the Afghan border, facing the North Waziristan Agency of Pakistan, where earlier US-Pakistan attacks failed to find much to fight. NATO plans to cluster around Khost in an attempt to repel the resistance in advance.

Through the mediation of Pakistan, the US has attempted diplomacy in the form of political bribery: promising a share of power to Haqqani and HIA participation in upcoming elections in exchange for ending the resistance. Haqqani has refused, for now. Hekmatyar has yet to respond.

The Spring Offensive is timed to take advantage of the good weather. But did you know that the Taliban, in 1996, banned weather forecasting? "They were allergic to the word 'prediction'," explains Abdul Qadeer, head of Afghanistan's meteorological office, in this article. "They said God only knows prediction, only God knows these things. We tried to explain that meteorology is not prediction, that it is forecast based on science. It didn't work."

Meanwhile, hundreds of Taliban fighters are apparently regrouping in the Zabul province in Southern Afghanistan (60 miles from Khandahar), with the intention of exploiting US focus on the Eastern border to undermine local stability in the run-up to the June election. The US military, however, has denied this: "If there were hundreds of fighters there, we would kill them," said a Colonel, bluntly.

10:02 PM

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