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Why the Afghan Taleban feel confident

By David Loyn
BBC News

Taleban in Wardak province
The Taleban in Wardak test-fired their weapons openly

In Afghanistan, the Taleban now claim to have influence across most of the country and have extended their area of control from their traditional heartland in the south.

They are able to operate freely even in Wardak Province, neighbouring the capital Kabul, as a BBC camera crew who filmed them recently found.

One of their commanders in Wardak, Mullah Hakmatullah, said they do not control the roads nor the towns, but they hold the countryside and have increasing support because of the corruption of the administration.

"The administration do not solve people's problems. People who go there with problems have to give a lot of money in bribes and then they get stuck there," Mullah Hakmatullah said.

'Much better now'

Support from villagers is essential to their ability to continue operations through the winter months.

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Local people said that they were willing to help the Taleban because they supported their brand of justice.

In one of the villages under their control, people willing to come forward and talk to the BBC said that security was much better now that the Taleban were there.

One of them, Gul Wazir, said that the Taleban were prepared to try to resolve small problems.

"Even if it's a minor thing, the Taleban will sort it out. Before (when the government of President Karzai was in control) it was not like that. They did not pay attention to us and the poor people were ignored."

The Taleban group showed off weapons, including a heavy machine gun they said they had captured from government forces.

They test-fired them in broad daylight, apparently not fearing retaliation from government nor international forces.

They were armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Nearby the burnt-out wreck of a government vehicle was left from a recent confrontation with Afghan national forces.

Orders from the south

The overall military commander of the Taleban in Wardak, Mullah Rashid Akhond, claimed to have 2,000 active fighters.

Taleban in Wardak province
The fighters say locals support their brand of justice

He said that he was operating an administrative system with orders coming from Kandahar in the south, just like during the days of the Taleban government that fell in 2001.

He said that the Taleban were running their own courts. "People are taking their cases away from the government courts and coming to us. Now there is no robbery in our area."

Many of the suicide bombers who go to Kabul come from this area, just an hour's drive away. Mullah Akhond justified them, saying that most of the attacks are now carried out by Afghans themselves, not foreign fighters.

Six years ago the Taleban found it hard to recruit. They put their increasing success now down to official corruption, the slow pace of reconstruction and the presence of foreign troops.

'Unstable environment'

Speaking in London, the former Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said that the rise of the Taleban was caused by weakness in the central government.

Taleban in Wardak province
Many of the suicide bombers who attack Kabul come from Wardak

"I think it is a major threat. What moves people is not ideology, but an unstable environment among the existing networks of clans, tribes, aggrieved people, drug traffickers, opportunists, and unemployed youth.

"It is the kind of problem that can be solved only with the establishment of good governance."

Mr Jalali is a potential presidential candidate in next year's election, as President Karzai faces increasing international pressure to deliver swift results.

But if anything, the battle for Afghanistan is harder now than it was after the Taleban were first forced out of power in Kabul.

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