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Taliban: God, not guns, will carry them

Some of the Taliban's heavy weaponry has been destroyed by the airstrikes  

From Nic Robertson

SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The poses struck by young Taliban soldiers smack of bravado, but their commanders' words are more chilling.

"The Taliban, as true Muslims, are looking to become martyrs," said Akhtar Mohammad Usmani, the Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan. "We want to die for a cause while others want to live."

The Islamic government has kept its military sites off-limits to journalists, so gauging the damage Taliban forces have sustained is difficult. But the Taliban troops CNN recently visited appear ready for a long battle.

In this deeply religious force, prayers five times a day are a priority.

Most here say they expect to fight through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. And U.S. officials say their strikes, launched four weeks ago in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, are likely to continue through Ramadan as well.

Afghanistan under the Taliban  
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To the Western eye, the Taliban fighters may appear ragtag, but their unconventional military appearance is helping them blend in with local communities -- and escape attack.

In almost a month of bombing, they say, only 15 fighters have been killed in southern Afghanistan. They have so many volunteers, some crossing from Pakistan, that they are turning people away, commanders say.

"We don't really need to force any one to fight for us," Usmani said.

"We have enough manpower, and we don't need anyone from Pakistan or any unwilling Afghans to fight."

Another Taliban commander, Mohammed Syed Haqqani, says he does not need outside help, either -- but Pakistani volunteers have been recently outfited with new military jackets and equipment under his command.

"We have not yet taken revenge on Americans," Haqqani said.

"They are just throwing stones from the sky. When they send the ground troops we will teach them. Our strength is in our faith, not our weapons."

In any upcoming battle, the Taliban may have to make do without much of their heavy weaponry.

In the days before the air strikes began, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar dismissed U.S. rhetoric as saber-rattling.

As a result, CNN sources say that at some bases, tanks and other weapons were not adequately dispersed and were destroyed when the bombing began.

In a residential area, a burned-out armored vehicle hints at the losses the Taliban suffered in the early days of the campaign.

The majority of the remaining military hardware appears now to have been tucked away in the mountains or hidden under trees.

The fight will continue without the armor, said Usmani.

"We don't really care about weapons," he said. "We may be having tanks and some other weapons, but we have faith in our cause, and with the same faith we were able to defeat the Soviet Union -- and we hope we can also win against Americans."

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