Taliban are ‘tough warriors’ Pentagon admits

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban militia is proving to be a tenacious opponent and is hunkering down for a long fight that could drag on for months through the harsh Afghan winter.

Briefing reporters at the Pentagon, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said the Taliban has stopped advances by opposition Northern Alliance forces on Kabul, the capital, and an airfield near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and begun dispersing its forces in ways that will be difficult to strike from the air alone.

"They are proven to be tough warriors," Stufflebeem said. "We’re in an environment they obviously are experts in, and it is extremely harsh. The entire world needs to recognize that terrorism and terrorists are a much different kind of threat than we have ever faced before."

One senior Pentagon official said the Taliban had prepared "remarkably poorly" before the onset of air strikes on Oct. 7 by failing to disperse their assets. But, the official said, the Taliban have adjusted. "They’ve figured that out now, and now they are trying to husband resources and hang on for the long haul," the official said.

Asked to assess the Taliban’s strengths and vulnerabilities, Stufflebeem said he was "surprised at how doggedly they’re hanging on to power — I think that’s the way to put it."

Referring to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader, Stufflebeem added: "For Mullah Omar to not see the inevitability of what will happen surprises me."

To underscore the Taliban’s determination, Stufflebeem said the United States has obtained credible intelligence that the Taliban may try to poison humanitarian food aid being distributed to starving Afghan civilians and blame the act on the United States.

"We are confident in what we have obtained as information," Stufflebeem said. "We are choosing to release that information now before it might become a fact. If it becomes a fact, it’s not because the United Sates is doing something untoward. It’s because somebody else is."

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