150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us, says Taliban commander

  • ‘Many Taliban want to leave Pakistan for Iran; they don’t trust Pakistan anymore’

The Afghan Taliban now control a large part of the war-torn country thanks to no shortage of recruits.

Where the United States aims to coerce Taliban into laying down arms, their prolonged stay has instead compelled insurgents to demand a withdrawal of foreign troops before peace talks.

“150, 000 Americans couldn’t beat us,” said Mullah Abdul Saeed, who was 14 when the US invaded Afghanistan. The commander adds that another 4, 000 US soldiers [to be deployed by US President Donald Trump] “will not change the morale of our mujahideens”.

“The Americans were walking in our villages, and we pushed them out,” Saeed told The Guardian. “Foreigners must leave and the constitution must be changed to Shariah.”

Commanding 150 militants, Saeed spoke to the newspaper without permission from the leadership, providing insight into the 16-year-long war. Arriving with his guard Yamin, Saeed warmed as the conversation evolved. He emphasised that the Taliban had adjusted to the war.

“It’s true, it has become harder to fight the Americans. But we use suicide bombers, and we will use more of them,” Saeed said. “If the US changes its tactics of fighting, so do we.”

This has led to a deadly series of attacks with large truck bombs in populated areas and daring assaults on military bases.

Saeed lost 12 family members fighting in a generation-long war.

Defending civilian casualties in the attacks, he said the Taliban made ‘mistakes’, but added that “If there is an infidel in a flock of sheep, you are permitted to attack that flock of sheep.”

Despite being outnumbered and technologically outmatched with rifts within the faction, the Afghan Taliban are at their strongest since 2001. “10-15 people join the mujahideen [in Logar] every day, sometimes also policemen,” said Saeed, adding that mistreatment by the government and foreign forces helps recruitment.

“Many Taliban become suicide bombers after prison. Why?” he asked while describing the torture detainees in prisons face by guards.

After a detainee is released, the shame is too much to bear, he said. The United Nations has documented such claims of government torture as well.

Another beleaguered militant in Wardak province, Omari told The Guardian that he had considered leaving insurgency and moving to Kabul with his family. “But if the Americans come back to Wardak, I will fight them,” the 23-year-old said.

However, Omari was soft on civilian casualties, believing that they damaged the Taliban’s standing with civilians.

The Guardian noted that the two militants agreed on one thing: “American soft power is as dangerous as uniformed soldiers, especially as US troops have dwindled in numbers”.

Last year’s attack on the American University in Kabul which killed 16 people was a manifestation of that belief. “We should kill those teachers who change the minds of society,” Saeed said.

With heightened operations against militants in Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban do not trust Pakistan anymore, said Omari. “Many Taliban want to leave Pakistan for Iran. They don’t trust Pakistan anymore.”

“Having relations is one thing, taking orders is something else,” he said when asked about his relations with Pakistan. “Every party, if they want to be stronger, needs to talk to other countries. We should talk to Iran, and we should talk to Pakistan—just like the Afghan government goes to India and China.”