06.25.10

Taliban Commanders See Victory in the Sacking of U.S. General

Militant commanders followed this week’s news of Gen. McChrystal’s departure with keen interest. Mushtaq Yusufzai gets the reaction from Senior Afghan Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani.

The Afghan Taliban has a saying: “Americans may own the watches. But we’ve got the time.” As President Obama sacked Gen. Stanley McChrystal this week, replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus, Taliban commanders watched events unfold from afar, and then declared that this was yet another victory.

The change of leadership, they said, gives them even more time in their fight against U.S. forces.

Ahmadullah Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said that sending Gen. McChrystal home in the middle of the war, in such an inglorious way, was good news as it proved how troubled and divided the U.S. political and military leadership had become.

"I was sure he’d have to face the consequences,” Haqqani said by phone from an undisclosed location. That kind of insubordination, he said, “would have extreme negative impacts on U.S. and NATO troops in the field.”

"Before Gen. McChrystal, many strong military generals suffered defeat,” in Afghanistan, Ahmadi said. “The Americans know that Afghanistan is the ‘graveyard of empires.’ But even so, they invaded this country.”

Senior Afghan Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani said he and his men had been informed as soon as the story about McChrystal broke. When Haqqani heard about the disparaging comments that McChrystal had made, he knew straight away that the American commander in Afghanistan was in trouble, and would get fired.

"I was sure he’d have to face the consequences,” Haqqani said by phone from an undisclosed location. That kind of insubordination, he said, “would have extreme negative impacts on U.S. and NATO troops in the field.”

Haqqani was pleased with what he saw as disarray among the team of American top military brass and diplomats in Afghanistan, and said that it proved that the Afghan war had frustrated and divided the Obama administration and the military leadership.

"After the American invasion, my father… said that Afghanistan would become another Vietnam for the U.S. which is now gradually proving to be true," said the militant commander. Most Taliban fighters stay in the mountains, away from cities and towns, and keep themselves informed about what’s going on in America and elsewhere by listening to the radio—mostly Pashto services of the BBC or Voice of America’s Azadi Radio.

Haqqani, who has a $5 million bounty on his head, is the eldest son of veteran Afghan Taliban leader, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani network, a strong Taliban faction operating both in the capital and the province of Waziristan. And given his high profile, the commander never carries a radio or any other kind of electronic gadgets for fear of surveillance and assassination. Instead, he gets all his information verbally from underlings charged with following the news. “We have a…media section whose job it is to monitor national and international media outlets,” he said.

Recent stories in the New York Times about valuable mineral deposits in the country had only helped the Taliban cause, he said.

"There is huge difference between the early years of invasion and present time,” he said. “Earlier, the Afghan people were reluctant to give us shelter. But now they realize that the U.S. invaded their country under the pretext of terrorism whereas in fact they wanted to loot precious minerals.”

Haqqani is believed to have organized several devastating attacks on U.S. and NATO forces, and has taken responsibility for the attack on the Bagram Air Base last month, which left one U.S. contractor dead and several others wounded. He is also believed to be behind the 2008 attack on the Kabul Serena Hotel, which killed six people, including a Norwegian journalist.

"Look, they invaded our country and sent us back to the Stone Age by bombing our villages and towns,” he said. “They targeted wedding ceremonies, gatherings of tribal jirgas and killed many innocent Afghan men, women and children.”

He said Gen. McChrystal had fought hard but that neither he nor anyone else could succeed, as the Afghans wouldn’t accept invaders in their country. He believed that McChrystal’s comments had been a kind of public hara-kiri—the defeated military commander speaking the truth in public so that he would be relieved of duty.

Haqqani also said that U.S. military leaders make tall claims before they depart for Afghanistan to assure their political leadership and the public about the prospects for military success. But once they arrive on the ground, they realize the gravity of the situation.

It wouldn’t be long, he predicted, before Gen. Petraeus would be speaking the language of Gen. McChrystal.

Mushtaq Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based journalist who covers the war on terror for The News International, one of Pakistan's largest newspapers. He has worked for ABC news and NBC. He is the winner of the Kate Webb award and a graduate of the U.N. Dag Hammarskjöld Journalism Fellowship program.