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Afghanistan: Killing Of Taliban Commander Seen As Setback For Insurgency

By Ron Synovitz

May 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- NATO said the killing of the Taliban's top operational commander in Afghanistan, Mullah Dadullah, is a major setback for militants there, but security analysts interviewed by RFE/RL countered that there are many local Taliban commanders who are willing to succeed him.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said Dadullah's bullet-ridden corpse was discovered on May 12 after a battle in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province.

His body was surrounded by the bodies of 11 other Taliban fighters also killed in the clash with U.S., NATO, and Afghan government troops.

Afghan officials had claimed several times in the past that they thought they had killed Dadullah. But on all previous occasions, Dadullah later surfaced in Taliban videos released over the Internet.

On May 13, Kandahar Province Governor Asadullah Khalid put Dadullah's body on display for journalists skeptical of the latest reports on his death, and images of the corpse have appeared in the media.

"We are sure he is Mullah Dadullah," Khalid said. "I told you [that] this operation was based on very good information and he is the killer," Dadullah said. "He killed a lot of Afghans, and he cut the heads off [of] a lot of Afghans and our police soldiers and many other innocent, Muslim, Afghan people."

Close To Mullah Omar, Al-Qaeda

Dadullah was one of the Taliban leaders most sought after by NATO and the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

He was close to the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and he also maintained close links with Al-Qaeda.

In one video earlier this year, Dadullah claimed he still had personal contacts with Osama bin Laden. He also said bin Laden had personally ordered a suicide bomb attack at the front gates of Bagram Air Field during a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney.

Military and intelligence officials say Dadullah was responsible for organizing and supplying Taliban fighters across much of southern Afghanistan.

He has been blamed for orchestrating many Taliban attacks -- including kidnappings, beheadings, and a wave of suicide bombings.

Psychologicial Blow

Waheed Mozhda is a Kabul-based analyst who had worked in the Taliban's Foreign Affairs Ministry before the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Mozhda told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that Dadullah's death is a major psychological setback for the Taliban.

"It was Mullah Dadullah who gathered together all the remnants of the Taliban after the collapse of the Taliban regime [in late 2001]," Mozhda said. "It was a struggle to gather them together after they had been defeated and they didn't have the ability to carry on their fight. He (Dadullah) brought them together into a force that was able to occupy many districts in Afghanistan. So the elimination of such a person will no doubt effect the Taliban."

Mozhda said he thinks there already is infighting among local Taliban commanders to replace Dadullah. He said such competition could manifest itself in the form of increased Taliban violence.

"We should see how the morale of the Taliban is affected," Mozhda said. "The Taliban have strong feelings of revenge. Local Taliban commanders had been in the shadow of Mullah Dadullah and were unable to prove themselves. Now they have the opportunity to fill his position. They will try very hard to prove themselves in the battlefield so that they will become known as Mullah Dadullah's successor."

Potential Successors?

Rahul Bedi, a journalist who covers South Asia for the London-based "Jane's Defence Weekly," said he thinks local Taliban commanders will quickly fill the void left by Dadullah's death.

But Bedi said local insurgents are too unified by their hatred of foreign forces in Afghanistan to fight among themselves.

"The death of Mullah Dadullah, whilst it is a tactical victory for the allied forces and the American forces and the NATO forces operating in Afghanistan, it doesn't really make much of difference on the ground because the leadership of the Taliban over the last four or five years has been dissipated," Bedi said. "The leadership is now in the hands of local commanders -- not the big ones known in the West. The fight continues, and the challenge that the NATO forces and the American forces face in Afghanistan is not going to diminish with his being killed."

That view contradicts proclamations by Kandahar's Governor Khalid as he displayed Dadalluh's body to journalists.

Khalid claimed that Dadullah's death is a huge loss for the Taliban that will weaken their activities.

He says the people of Afghanistan have been rescued from the cruelty of a "wild butcher" who had ordered numerous assassinations of Afghan clerics, government officials, and health and education workers.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report.)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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