The Taliban Call a Time-Out

Article excerpt

Byline: Ron Moreau

For months, NEWSWEEK has reported emphatic denials by senior Afghan Taliban officials that they were engaged in secret peace talks with the government in Kabul. Those denials received further weight last week when The New York Times exposed a purported top-level Taliban negotiator as an impostor who made off with large sums of U.S. cash.

Even so, Taliban forces--the real ones--are definitely feeling the impact of stepped-up U.S. action in southern Afghanistan. A group of 17 ground commanders recently traveled to the Pakistani frontier city of Quetta to meet with one of their top military chiefs, Abdul Qayum Zakir, say four Taliban officials who didn't want to be named for safety reasons.

The commanders informed Zakir that they and their men were temporarily suspending combat operations and asked that he either transfer them to less hotly contested areas or let them recover in Pakistan until the spring thaw. "We have lost many friends and commanders," one member of the delegation told Zakir, says Mullah Salam Khan, a midlevel commander in Helmand province who was briefed on the meeting by a participant. …