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Al Qaeda's ploy: parry and run

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No one said winning this war would be easy. But the toppling of the Taliban last October may have given an inappropriately optimistic view of the US military's ability to quickly squelch its assailants.

Now, pro-government Afghan forces cite several reasons why the US-run campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban has not been effective: American military intelligence is weak, often comes from sources who work for both sides, and is sometimes too slow to be effective.

"The biggest problem has been the lack of coordination between the US special forces and the warlords," says Gen. Abdul Qadir Mohammed, chief of National Security and Defense Affairs. "[The US] bombed first and then surrounded the area of Shah-e Kot.

"Moreover, some of the Afghan forces with whom the Americans are working are sharing information with both sides," adds the general, a large man who, after 40 years in the military, wears a gray business suit while his olive wool uniform hangs on a wooden coat stand behind his desk. "In this phase of the war, the Americans have to win over local commanders by giving them money."

In fact, the US military has been investing time, funds, and expertise in training Afghan forces, but Afghan officials say it is not enough. Many outside experts agree. Moreover, rivalries among competing forces make it difficult. "The problem is that when the Americans give money to one commander, the other commander will get angry and give information to Al Qaeda," Mohammed says. To break that pattern, the interim government needs to create one national military that crosses ethnic and geographical divides.

US officials in Kabul hope Congress will pass a bill this spring that will provide additional military aid to Afghanistan. But, warns another official in Afghanistan's interim government, the Pashtuns – the country's largest ethnic group – are feeling slighted by the US military's reliance on the Northern Alliance, made up mostly of Tajiks and some Uzbeks.

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