has acquired a lot of franchises in the last two years, some of which are
likely to be dangerous. Despite setbacks, al Qaeda Central will continue to
support any group that seems to have the remotest chance of making a splash.
The Taliban, in contrast, remains dangerous because it has decided quantity is
more important than quality. Having lost their best leaders, they've switched
over to indiscriminate attacks in great numbers. In fact, the optimal strategy
for the Taliban is to fall back and regroup (think Mao's "When the enemy
attacks . . . ."). But doing so risks the chance that the government will be
able to make important advances on the economic front, thereby rendering the
Taliban irrelevant. But if that doesn't happen, they gain time to rebuild their
infrastructure, recruit and train better personnel, and emerge from the
woodwork when things look better for them.
The Taliban have a tense
relationship with al Qaeda, and resist becoming another al Qaeda franchise.
During the late 1990s, al Qaeda members treated Afghans, and even Taliban
allies, roughly. The Taliban used a brigade of al Qaeda foreigners as
"enforcers" when reluctant tribes needed to be punished. Al Qaeda
members, especially Arabs, were openly disdainful of the Taliban "hillbillies."
None of this has been forgotten, even though the Taliban and al Qaeda openly
proclaim their alliance.