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Taliban, bin Laden, forged in crucible of Afghan resistance

By Christiane Amanpour
CNN Chief International Correspondent

(CNN) -- A mystery to many in the West, the Taliban ruling party and the most infamous inhabitant of Afghanistan trace their political and martial roots to a fight with invaders from the North.

When the former Soviet Union invaded the treacherous and mountainous terrain of Afghanistan on the eve of the 1980s, it quickly found its own Vietnam.

This superpower was taken and eventually forced out by a network of Afghan guerrilla groups known as the Mujaheddin. The Cold War was still on, and the United States helped recruit these resistance fighters through its allies in the region, like Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden was one of those and after the war with the Soviets he took control of the guerrilla network, swelled by fighters from all over the Islamic world.

At a glance: Afghanistan  
In-Depth: Who is Osama bin Laden?  

"Bin Laden's group grew out of Mujaheddin guerrilla warriors who were trained by Pakistan Secret Services and the Pakistan military, with funding and financing by the United States," said Magnus Ranstorp of the Center for the Study of Terrorism at St. Andrews University.

But the U.S. is blamed for failing to track the growing ranks of radical Muslim guerrillas, once the Mujaheddin ended the Soviet occupation in 1989. Afghanistan then descended into civil war and eventually split into two main blocks.

On one side, the Northern Alliance, a loose network of ethnic minorities, nominally led by the charismatic Ahmad Shah Massoud, known as the Afghan mastermind of the Soviet defeat. Massoud has died, apparently the victim of assassins last week.

On the other side, the Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic movement representing the ethnic majority. They captured the capital Kabul in 1996 and are now in control of almost all of Afghanistan. But their repressive regime, particularly their harsh treatment of women, has earned them almost universal condemnation.

The West also accuses the Taliban of harboring bin Laden, America's declared enemy No. 1. Pakistan, one of only three countries recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate government, is now under intense pressure from the United States to convince the Taliban to give up bin Laden. Washington has received support from Islamabad.

"We regard terrorism as an evil that threatens the world community. Concerted international effort is needed to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The carnage in New York and Washington has raised the struggle to a new level," said Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the leader of Pakistan.

The Taliban itself is divided between hard-liners and those who would prefer more cooperation with the West, according to international experts. Some think that the United States needs to offer the Taliban incentives in return for giving up bin Laden, at least as a first measure before planning a military response.

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