Taliban Forces Proper

The Taliban’s military forces (prior to hostilities) (non-subscriber extract from Jane’s World Armies’ Afghanistan entry)

Infantry: Of the 45,000 men available to the Taliban, Pakistani and Arab religious volunteers have played an increasingly important military role. The Arabs, deployed mostly on front lines north of Kabul, number an estimated 500 to 600 and form part of Osama bin Laden's `055 Brigade'. Pakistani volunteers are far more numerous. By mid-1999 as many as 9,000 to 10,000 Pakistanis were believed to be serving in Taliban ranks, some in combat roles and others in rear support, static guard and administrative functions.

Armour: The Taliban are estimated to field some 100 main battle tanks (MBTs) for operations and about 250 armoured fighting vehicles of various types - a number of which were captured from enemy forces in northern Afghanistan during the Summer and Autumn of 1998. There are doubts as to the serviceability of some of these, but it is significant that, during the lull in fighting between 2000 and 2001, many armoured vehicles operating in the Kabul theatre were reconditioned. Some armour has been organised into an armoured brigade (or brigade equivalent) tentatively identified as Armoured Force No 4 and based in Kabul. However, this unit has never operated as an independent armoured brigade, and most of its assets are allocated to infantry units when required. Other armoured elements are attached on an ad hoc basis to infantry task forces. In July 1998 Taliban forces used an armoured column of T-54/55 and T-62 MBTs to achieve a breakthrough on one flank of a twin-pronged advance on Maimana, in northwestern Afghanistan. This appeared to be the first time the Taliban had used armour in an independent armoured role, as distinct from employing them in a mobile artillery or fire-support role.

Artillery: The most effective of their specialised arms, the Taliban artillery consists of about two hundred operational artillery pieces, as well as truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers (MRLs). Artillery batteries are attached to infantry task forces as required.

Organisation: Despite some efforts to reorganise the Taliban military along more conventional lines, offensive operations have fallen mostly to task force groups thrown together on an ad hoc basis under different commanders from different provinces. On paper at least, an army corps is based in Kabul, commanded by Mullah Mohammad Fazl, along with an independent armoured brigade. However, there is no evidence to suggest that any meaningful divisional structure has emerged in the provinces. Primary military bases are located in Kabul, Herat and Kunduz. There are also smaller garrisons in other cities that were formerly Afghan Army corps headquarters, specifically Kandahar and Jalalabad, as well as northern cities occupied in the Summer of 1998 - Mazar-e Sharif, Shiberghan and Maimana.

Assessment: Following their emergence in late 1994, many of the Taliban's early successes in the south were due partly to their own popular appeal and to disbursements of cash among opposition commanders, or a combination of both. However, the Taliban have also displayed an innovative approach to warfare characterised by the use of surprise, mobility, speed, impressive logistics support and an efficient command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) network. All unusual in the context of warfare in Afghanistan, these elements, along with other evidence, have lent credence in the past to reports of involvement at both planning and operational levels by Pashto-speaking Pakistani military intelligence advisers or technically retired Pakistani military personnel acting on secondment. This was the case during the Taliban's 1998 Summer and Autumn campaign and 1999 Summer offensive. Taliban forces have generally come from three distinct backgrounds: former students of madrassas (religious schools) in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, who constitute the ideological core of the movement; former Mujahideen or jihadi (holy war) groups whose commanders joined the Taliban for financial or ethnic reasons; and officers of the former (pre-1992) Afghan Army, many from the hard line, Pashtun nationalist Khalq (Masses) wing of the communist party. The latter have formed a skilled, professional core in artillery, armour, communications and in the air force, but some of these former communists were purged in late 1998. More recently, another distinct element has been playing an important military role: Pakistani and Arab religious volunteers. The Arabs, mostly deployed on front lines north of Kabul, are estimated to number between 500 and 600. Pakistani volunteers are far more numerous. By late 1998, as many as 9,000 to 10,000 Pakistanis were serving in Taliban ranks. These different backgrounds have inevitably resulted in some friction. To minimise this, Taliban troops are kept in separate units based on nationality and, in some cases, region, district, or tribe.

Equipment in Service Equipment supplied by the former USSR remains in service whenever spares can be obtained. The following represents a listing of equipment that we believe may be available to the Taliban:

Armour Main Battle Tanks/Light Tanks: T-34/85; T-54; T-55; T-62; PT-76.

Reconnaissance Vehicles/Armoured Fighting Vehicles: BDRM-2. APC: BTR-40; BTR-50; BTR-60; BTR-70; BTR-80; BTR-152; BMP-1; BMP-2.

Taliban estimate - operational: 100 main battle tanks; 250 armoured fighting vehicles.

Artillery Towed: 120mm 2S9 SPM/H; 76 mm M1938 mountain gun; 76mm M1966 mountain gun; 76mm M1942 FG; 85mm D-48 ATG; 100mm M1944 FG; 122mm D-30 howitzer; 122mm M1938 howitzer; 152mm D-1 howitzer; 152mm D-20 gun-howitzer.

Multiple rocket launchers: 122mm BM-21; 132mm BM-13-16; 140mm BM-14-17; 220mm BM-22.

Taliban estimate - operational: 200 guns of all calibres.

Infantry Pistols: 7.62mm Tokarev.

Sub-machine guns: 7.62mm PPSh41; 7.65mm CZ; vz-61.

Rifles: 7.62mm Simonov SKS; 7.62mm AK-47, AKM. Machine guns: 7.62mm RPD, RPK; 12.7mm DShK.

Close support weapons: 30mm AGS-17. Mortars: 82mm M37; 107mm M38; 120mm M1943; 160mm M1943.

Anti-tank weapons: 73mm SPG-9; 82mm RCLB-10; ‘Snapper’ anti-tank guided weapon. Air Defence Surface-to-Air Missiles: SA-7 ‘Grail’ man-portable SAM.

Anti-Aircraft Artillery: 12.7mm LAAG including M53 (4 × 12.7mm in rear of BTR-152 armoured personnel carrier); 14.5mm ZPU-1, ZPU-2 and ZPU-4.

Light Anti-Aircraft Guns: 20 × 23mm ZSU-23-4 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun; 23mm (twin) ZU-23 light anti-aircraft gun, also truck-mounted for convoy escort; 57mm S-60 AAG; 85mm KS-12 AAG, with `Fire Can' radar; 100mm KS-19 AAG.

Taliban estimate - operational: 20 SAM launchers; 300 air defence guns of all calibres.

Discussion of Pro-Taliban Fighters in Theatre

Foreign pro-Taliban fighters inside Afghanistan (pre-hostilities) (non-subscriber extract from Jane’s World Armies’ Afghanistan entry)

In itself, the presence of foreigners on the Afghan battlefield is scarcely new. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, thousands of volunteers from across the Islamic world joined the anti-communist jihad. However, following the 1992 fall of Kabul and the beginning of the civil war between the Mujahideen factions, the foreign presence dropped sharply as many young enthusiasts returned to radicalise Islamic movements in their home countries, or moved to conflicts where Muslims were not killing Muslims. Since 1995, however, the rise of the Taliban movement has brought with it a major resurgence of the jihadi foreign legion. It has also changed its complexion in several notable aspects. Estimated by regional military and intelligence sources to number between 8,000 and 12,000, today's foreign combatants are more numerous than before. They are also better organised, and in many cases better equipped with heavier weaponry than their counterparts of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Operating at the centre of a global network of radical Islamists, they are evidently ideologically more focused than their counterparts of the 1980s. Finally, the foreigners are far better integrated into the military machine of their Afghan hosts than was ever the case before. Indeed, constituting between a fifth and a quarter of total Taliban combat strength of 40,000 to 45,000, and in recent times frequently spearheading offensive operations, foreign units have become an indispensable element of the Taliban order of battle. This, in turn, has given their parent groups increasing organisational autonomy and political leverage within Afghanistan. From the early days of a movement which found its earliest recruits among Afghan refugees studying in Pakistani religious seminaries, Pakistanis have constituted a clear majority of the Taleban's foreign fighters. Geographic proximity, ease of transport and the often seasonal nature of the fighting have meant that numbers have fluctuated from month to month. Current estimates indicate between 5,000 to 7,000 Pakistanis - or over half of the total foreign contingent - are operating in support of the Taliban. Increasingly ethnic Pashtuns from Pakistan's Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province border belt - who share a language and culture with the Afghan Taliban - have been joined by volunteers from Punjab, Sindh and Karachi. For the purpose of analysis, the Pakistani contingent can be broken up into three broadly distinct but occasionally overlapping categories. The first and most numerous consists of youths recruited en masse from Pakistani madrassahs (seminaries) of the Deobandi school - particularly those affiliated to the Jamaat-e-Ulema Islami (JUI) party which maintains close links with the Taliban. Waves of madrassah youths, quickly mobilised and often with little or no military training, were particularly important in the period between 1995 and 1998 when Taliban advances often entailed heavy losses and the requirement for rapid reinforcements was paramount. UF/Northern Alliance sources, however, believe that, more recently, losses and the uncertain military effectiveness of these volunteers have tempered both the enthusiasm at source and the demand from commanders within Afghanistan. Fewer, but undoubtedly more effective on the battlefield, have been volunteers from Pakistan's militant jihadi organisations, most notably the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (formerly Harakat-ul-Ansar) of Fazlur Rahman Khalil; and the aggressively anti-Shi'a factions, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its smaller, more violent offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Both the latter factions have a record of sectarian terrorist outrages in Pakistan and several key figures are wanted by Pakistani authorities on terrorist charges. (Appeals to Kabul by Pakistan's Home Ministry for their extradition have been repeatedly ignored, however). In many cases, party-affiliated militants have had access to basic military training courses of up to 40 days before moving to the front. Training has usually taken place either at Rishkhor, the former Afghan Army 7th Division base on the southern outskirts of Kabul, or at camps in the Zhawa complex near Khost on the Pakistan border. Arabs constitute the second largest foreign contingent and, according to a range of UF/Northern Alliance and regional sources, their numbers have grown notably over the past 18 months. There seems little doubt at least 2,000 combatants - all apparently affiliated to and financed by Osama bin Laden - were active in support of the Taliban at the time of the September attacks in the US. One source monitoring the military situation estimated that up to 3,000 Arab combatants may have been in the field in September. Certainly an Arab presence, including numbers of civilians and their families, was quite open in the southern cities of Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar. Reports from both Western and UF/Northern Alliance sources indicate Arab military camps, some of which double as training facilities, are situated at Ghaziabad and Darunta (east and west of Jalalabad respectively); Naghloo dam near Sarobi; Kunduz; and Kandahar airport. Recent unconfirmed reports suggest one, or possibly two, training facilities may also have opened in Herat province. Both Arab instructors and trainees have been seen at Rishkhor, near Kabul. Following the August 1998 US cruise missile attack on training camps at Zhawa, Rishkhor expanded to become probably the biggest training base in the country, housing up to 1,500 trainees - Pakistanis, Arabs and others - as well as some 30 to 50 instructors (some of whom had moved from Khost). Courses covered basic field craft and small-arms training, graduating to specialised courses in support weaponry, demolition and escape and evasion. In June 2000, however, following international publicity and growing diplomatic pressure, the facility was emptied. Kabul-based journalists were permitted to visit it but official denials that foreigners had ever trained there were belied by large signs on buildings in Arabic and Urdu. More recently, Rishkhor has again been off- limits to outsiders and appeared to be being used for training, though whether of a new Taliban unit or foreign combatants remains unclear. Following the Taliban's 1996 capture of Kabul, several hundred Arabs began serving on fronts on the Shomali plain north of the capital. According to UF/Northern Alliance military sources, many remain there today, based at the villages of Gozar and Tutakhan and commanded by a Tunisian with the nom de guerre of 'Abu Emad'. As hostilities intensified in the northeast, however, other units moved north, notably in May 2001 when a force of 1,000 Arabs and Pakistanis was pulled out of Shomali and flown north to Kunduz as part of the spring build-up against the UF/Northern Alliance. Other units have been reported in central and western Afghanistan operating as parts of Taliban flying columns used as quick reaction forces following UF/Northern Alliance attacks. Generally, Arab units are deployed in an infantry role armed with nothing heavier than rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), PK machine guns and mortars. They are, however, widely recognised as currently the most aggressive and committed fighters in Taliban ranks. Significantly, among several hundred foreign POWs held by the UF/Northern alliance, there are scarcely any Arabs. The growing isolation of the Kabul regime and international opprobrium it incurred even before September 2001 almost certainly increased the political influence of Osama bin Laden and his associates with the Taliban - influence cemented by the close personal relationship between Bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Indeed, several analysts believe Arab influence may have played a key part in the clearly political decision to defy the international community and destroy the Buddhas of Bamiyan - a move guaranteed to deepen Taliban isolation and strengthen the pact with bin Laden's Islamists. Chechen units and the forces of the IMU constitute the other two main foreign contingents. While organisationally separate with distinct leaderships, links between Islamist militants from the two ex-Soviet territories are longstanding and it seems likely that Chechens are today attached to IMU combat units. Other foreigners, including Pakistanis from the SSP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, are also operating under the IMU's military umbrella. (Unclear, however, is whether southeast Asian militants from the southern Philippines and Indonesia operate with the IMU or with independent Pakistani units). To the fury of Moscow, a Chechen embassy was first established in Kabul in January 2000 and Chechen consulates were later set up in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif. As with the Arabs, there has grown up a civilian Chechen community in cities such as Kandahar and Mazar. Military bases have been identified at Kod-e-Barq outside Mazar; and at a facility just south of the highway between Tashkurgan and Mazar. At least one all-Chechen unit - a platoon of some 30 fighters - has been identified operating on the front line near Bagram airbase, north of Kabul. While IMU leaders Tahir Yuldash and Juma Namangani have enjoyed sanctuary in Afghanistan since the Tajikistani civil war of 1992 to 1997, IMU numbers appear to have risen more recently as new recruits from Central Asia have joined units in Afghanistan. Diplomatic estimates put current IMU strength at between 1,500 to 2,000, including Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Tajkistanis, Xinjiang Uighurs, and some Pakistanis. This year the IMU is for the first time participating in the Taliban campaign with the unit stationed at Koh-e-Siah Boz. Other units are believed to be based at Deh Dadi, headquarters of the former Afghan Army 18 Division, 15 km west of Mazar.

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The following Information was pulled from the best private intelligence organization in the world, Janes (www.Janes.com). I will add information from other sources (www.FAS.org, www.geostrategy.org, etc.) in the next couple of days, and fill out the information with other perspectives. In addition, I hope to provide current estimated Taliban and Al-Queda military strength and casuality figures on all the combatants. That being said, I hope this doesn't piss off Jane's by my blatant cross-post until I can meld it into something more...... -N