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Even without Zadran's stores, al-Qaeda and Taliban survivors clearly have the capacity to keep fighting. U.S. forces have managed to uncover a number of arms depots in the eastern part of Afghanistan, where the enemy is still active, still the weapons flow has not ceased. Says a senior Afghan military figure in Paktika province on the border: "Here, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have no shortage of weapons; they're channeling them in from Pakistan." Afghan intelligence officials believe the Taliban and al-Qaeda have set up a network along the border of what the military calls "enablers," those who provide money, hide weapons and spy on U.S. troop movements. The Taliban, they say, have secretly re-established councils throughout most of Paktika province.
Lately the enemy has grown better and bolder. A bunker at a U.S. base in Lawara was hit last month by an incoming rocket. There were no casualties, but it was the first time such a hit-and-run attack had scored. Six days later, a rocket was launched at the U.S. special forces' Chapman Army airfield at 10 a.m. It was the first daytime rocket attack since the Taliban's collapse.
The enemy is even contracting out jobs. In Kandahar, U.S. forces recently figured out that a rocket attack on their Bagram base in June was carried out by one of their own Afghan allies. The Americans had fallen behind with the payroll, and al-Qaeda offered the turncoat quick cash, according to Taliban figures connected with the commander. He now resides, according to an aide to the governor of Kandahar, in a prison cage in the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Catching the perpetrators of such assaults after the fact is usually all but impossible. After enduring a barrage of wildly aimed rockets on their Camp Salerno base last month, commanders of the 82nd Airborne Division decided to mount a helicopter-and artillery-backed assault of 520 infantrymen on a high mountain valley rumored to be used as an al-Qaeda staging post. Up in the valley, this massive invasion force encountered only a lone man, who popped off a few rifle shots and then fled. He was never caught.
General Myers, in his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, gives Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants credit for responding well to U.S. tactics, for instance, by improving their ability to communicate and move money undetected. "They've adapted their tactics," he says, "and we've got to adapt ours." In particular, Myers argues, "intelligence flow has to be a lot more exquisite than it's been." He says that in the early months of the war, the U.S. kept the enemy off balance with "bold" actions that carried "a large element of risk." Now, he says, "we've got to get back to the point where we can ... act ... faster than they can."
Of course, pursuing enemy elements more aggressively carries the risk of further alienating innocent Afghans who invariably get hassled during security sweeps. "No one ever forgets that American soldiers came into their house and trawled through their women's clothing. Nor do they forgive," says Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, who despite having served as the Taliban deputy interior minister, is a relative moderate. "Doesn't the U.S. realize that with every one of these operations, their enemy is not decreasing but increasing with fresh, embittered new recruits?"