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Canada's army chief reveals he had dinner with Taliban pair: Lt.-Gen. *Andrew* *Leslie* makes point that only extreme elements of group do harm

Mike Blanchfield, Vancouver Sun, 21 Sept 06


OTTAWA - I Few Canadian soldiers have looked into the face of

the Taliban in quite the same way as Lt.-Gen. *Andrew* *Leslie* -- over a dinner table.


The chief of Canada's army, and a former NATO commander in

Afghanistan, initially stunned a few observers last week when he

said he had dined with two Taliban sub-commanders, both of whom he

described as coherent and moderate, and one who was actually in the cabinet of President Hamid Karzai.


"Taliban, like any large grouping, there's a spectrum," Leslie

explained. "The extreme elements among the Taliban are the ones who do us harm."


Leslie was attempting to illustrate a point that few Canadians seem

to understand: "Taliban" has become an easy and misleading label to

define the enemy that the Canadian Forces are fighting in southern



In addition to its fanatical religious elements, this amorphous

enemy is a combination of drug barons, warlords, foreigners and

local hires plucked from disaffected youth, all nurtured by the

borderless, lawless frontier across eastern Afghanistan and western

Pakistan. This was underscored by recent events; days after the

military began preparing tanks to fight a more conventional war

against the Taliban, a man on a bicycle set off a suicide bomb that

killed four Canadian soldiers.


"We perhaps simplistically use Taliban as a label when we all

understand the situation on the ground, especially in south

Afghanistan, is more complex than that," said Lt.-Gen. Michel

Gauth-ier, the commander of the military's foreign deployments.


"We certainly are not naive enough to think it is just about the



Prior to the latest insurgency, the estimate of Taliban numbers in

the south was 1,500 to 2,000, says Leslie.


"Recent estimates are much larger than that. That's because, as

Canadians spread out and good NATO friends spread out throughout the

south, they're finding out more about what's in there and responding



Leslie and his boss, Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of the defence

staff, say the traditional Taliban connection to Pakistan has not

been severed, even though pressure continues to mount on Pakistan

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to crack down on the religious

schools fermenting fundamentalism on his side of the Afghan border.


Today, the true believers of the traditional Taliban movement have

intermingled with "just straight criminality," says Gauthier. That

includes the powerful warlords who control Afghanistan's lucrative

heroin trade -- the poppy farming that produces, according to United

Nations estimates, almost 90 per cent of the world's $2.7-billion

heroin trade.


But, whoever actually makes up the modern Taliban, it is still

heavily armed with state-of-the-art weapons, added Leslie. "The

sophistication of remote-controlled explosive devices has grown

markedly in the last few months."

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