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Analysts say limited weaponry, forces hamper Taliban

Aging tanks may hamper the Taliban during a war, military analysts said.  

From Nic Robertson

QUETTA, Pakistan (CNN) -- Familiarity with the terrain and fighting on home soil may not be substantial advantages for Afghanistan's government in a face-off with modern weaponry, military analysts said.

Typically, the Taliban's fighting hardware is old and of Soviet origin, and its limited arsenal could be targeted in the opening salvos of a missile attack.

"We suspect that the Taliban has a hundred useable tanks, which isn't that many," said Clifford Beal, editor of Janes Defence, a military magazine. "On the books they probably have 600, but most of those are inoperative."

CNN's Nic Robertson explores the often unconventional military strength of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban party (October 3)

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Footage from 1997 shows Afghan fighters using a car battery to power up rockets, but analysts still warn that officials should not underestimate the unconventional-looking force.

"In certain occasions, they have been able to show how to use surprise -- elements of surprise, mobility and fire power," Beal said.

That fire power includes surface-to-air missiles, analysts said, which lends some credence to the Taliban claim that they shot down an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft flying at 12,000 feet. Additionally, the Taliban control 95 percent of the territory and eschew detailed operational plans allowing them to act quickly.

"They are set up along the line of task forces," Beal said. "... They throw together whatever the elements they need to do the job at hand."

Given the vulnerability of the Taliban's wireless communications network and use of radios, loose command and control are beneficial, experts said.

"As far as the Taliban is concerned, they don't believe in that kind of detailed operational plans," said Lt. General Syed Refaqat, formerly of the Pakistan army. "... They work on mission type order so this is one great asset."

With the support of clan leaders, the Taliban claim to have 300,000 fighters, but analysts said the regular Taliban force is about 45,000 soldiers.

Limited fighters and antiquated equipment are just two of the Taliban's limitations.

Beal classifies their air defense guns and shoulder-fired missiles as "low level." They have stingers that came into Afghanistan during the 1980s from the United States to help Mujahedeen fighters drive out the Soviet army. But resupply of such equipment is not likely for the currently isolated Taliban.

"They have some scud missiles, again about 20, 30 years old," said Amer Rashid, a Taliban analyst. "They were used a lot during the war against the Soviet Union. Kabul used scud missiles to bomb Pakistan a lot, but they cannot be targeted very effectively."

And the Taliban's guerrilla practices may prove of limited value in a protracted campaign.

"They have been fighting a war with primitive technologies," Refaqat said, "also against enemies who are equally primitive in their technologies and tactics."


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