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Bid to split Taliban, Al Qaeda

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Western officials dub these fighters "moderates," even though many of them are just as religiously conservative as their Al Qaeda counterparts.

"Over the long term, I see reconciliation as one of the primary actions that will have to occur for there to be success," says Carter Malkasian, who directs the Stability and Development program at CNA, a Washington-based think tank.

Two-pronged strategy

Such reconciliation is a key ingredient in the kind of counterinsurgency strategy militaries have used for decades, including in Iraq. The strategy may take two approaches. First, it will focus on the low-ranking insurgent fighters who may be easier to reconcile with the government.

"We tend to talk about the Taliban, but there is 'big T' Taliban, that is Mullah Omar and the [others] who ... swept through the country in the mid-'90s," says Eric Edelman, the Pentagon's senior policy official, told reporters in Washington recently. "There is what I call the 'small-T' Taliban, which are Pashtun tribals who are not reconciled to the government and may be engaging in ... activity kind of opportunistically."

According to officials at the Afghan Social Outreach Program, part of an Afghan government initiative to strengthen local governance, a new body is being formed to reconcile such fighters with the government that will use the promise of government jobs and cash inducements. This body will replace an already existing government organization that many say is corrupt and ineffective.

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