Hyder: Taliban preparing for attack
(CNN) -- Afghanistan's ruling Taliban is making decisive moves in preparation for a military attack from the United States, according to reports from Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
The United States has threatened military action against the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
CNN Correspondent Kamal Hyder spoke with CNN on Thursday from eastern Afghanistan, where he is following the movements of Taliban forces.
CNN: We've been hearing about defections or the fear of defections among the Taliban troops... have you seen any evidence of anything like that?
HYDER: I haven't seen any evidence (of military defections among the Taliban). I do know... people will tell you privately that they are questioning the wisdom of the government with taking a decision that they will stand against the international community. But overall, I have seen no signs of people deserting. They seem to be in full strength.
On the contrary, they seem to be getting a lot of support from the tribal elders here and a lot of people who are now bringing out their weapons and saying that they will stand by their government, good or bad, if Afghanistan comes under foreign attack.
Historically, Afghans have always united. Afghanistan has been a country of tribal chieftains and feuds, and in times of foreign attack, these tribal chieftains combine together and use their efforts to withstand a foreign enemy.
So here we have basically volunteers, who are saying that they're going to fight their jihad (holy war) against a force that wants to impose its will on Afghanistan.
CNN: Can you give us an idea of the kind of troops you're seeing? Because we've also heard reports this morning that in this flow of refugees that have been leaving Afghanistan, we have heard that Taliban troops have been actually taking boys who have been in those refugee crowds -- taking them away from their families and forcing them to enlist and join with the Taliban troops. Do you know that to be true?
HYDER: Well, we have no evidence to suggest that at all, because the Taliban, at this time, are also fighting a battle to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan population. I was told from a contact in southern Afghanistan that they were able to film the demonstration in Afghanistan in front of the Vice and Virtue Ministry, which would be unheard of during the days of the Taliban, the peak of power.
But you must understand here that the Taliban are also equally insistent in winning the hearts and minds of their local population. Any such attempt to force people into military conscription is going to be basically something that will backfire in their face.
CNN: In that battle for the hearts and minds of the people there, can you give us any word on right now who is actually winning that battle? Is the Taliban winning?
HYDER: The sad part is that neither side can claim to have full victory on that so far. I think there is a silent majority in Afghanistan, which is just watching to see what evolves out of this dangerous situation and this tense calm when it's broken. In the end, we have one population that will make that key choice as to which way they stand.
But at this moment in time, the most dangerous element that is emerging here is that there is division on the question of the king. Some people throwing their support behind the government in power; others for the king.
And this means that ruler of Afghanistan is now pitted against each other, something unprecedented in Afghan history when faced with the inevitable threat of foreign attack. That itself means that Afghanistan could be destabilized for the next few months or years, unless the Taliban are neutralized completely and decisively.
I can tell you from here in eastern Afghanistan -- Taliban-controlled Afghanistan -- that the Taliban seem to be committed to defending their cause. They have disbursed key assets to higher ground around the cities and disbursed men. They are continuing to keep a security presence in the cities, and their intelligence is very active trying to look out for possible collaborators or supporters of the king, Zahir Shah.
People are surprised here that in spite of reports of desertions within the Taliban ranks, they are surprised at the organized manner in which the Taliban have made their moves by taking their troops through the rural areas of Afghanistan. They are basically digging in for a long guerrilla campaign here.
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