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. “We are tired and want to take a rest.” Zakir, says Khan, acknowledged their complaint—but said he needed the commanders to help him keep up at least a harassing presence in their areas so villagers could see that the insurgents are not on the run. They promised to do what they could.