Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Afghanistan Examined at MEI

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Afghanistan Examined at MEI

Article excerpt

AFGHANISTAN EXAMINED AT MEI

Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Julie Sirrs, now with Response International, a non-governmental organization, discussed the influences on the ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan at the Middle East Institute on Jan. 5.

According to Sirrs, Saudi political dissident Osama bin Laden, currently under the protection of the Taliban, serves as a powerful symbol of the anti-Western sentiment galvanizing support for the Afghan regime. In addition, Sirrs pointed to the instrumental support Bin Laden provides for the Taliban in the ongoing Afghan civil war; some 700 of Bin Laden's highly trained and equipped fighters directly participate in the fight against the opposition United Front.

In addition, Bin Laden has helped the Taliban financially from his personal assets, estimated to be somewhere between $7 million and $1 billion, and from donations he extracts from wealthy Arab Gulf states. Even with sanctions in place, Sirrs noted, the net benefit to the Taliban of allowing Osama bin Laden to remain in Afghanistan is tremendous.

In discussing outside influences on current Afghan politics, Sirrs focused on Iran and Pakistan. She said Iran views Afghanistan as a national security issue in view of the nearly one million Afghani refugees in Iran and the increasing violence associated with the flow of drug trafficking in Afghanistan.

Sirrs said there is also a perception within Iran that the United States and the Taliban are connected in an effort to overthrow the Iranian government. …

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