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Soldierless Jihad

How the Withdrawal Undermines the Taliban's Case for War

Graffiti left behind by Taliban fighters on the walls of a compound used as a command center for the U.S Marine Corps' First Battalion, Eighth Marines at Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, November 10, 2010. Finbarr O'Reilly / Courtesy Reuters

On May 24, a group of Taliban fighters attacked an Afghan police and army post in the Syed Karam district of Paktia province, near the border with Pakistan’s tribal areas. The soldiers inside resisted, aided by air support. By the end of the battle, four Taliban fighters were dead: yet more casualties in the escalating violence that has rocked Afghanistan this year as efforts to start negotiations between the Taliban and the government of Hamid Karzai continue, and as the NATO withdrawal looms. According to the United Nations, over 3,000 civilians were killed in the first five months of 2013 -- nearly a quarter rise over the past year.

Still, the four Taliban fighters -- Sebghatullah, Sherif, Gul Ahmad, and Gul Padshah -- were more than statistics. They were also the cause and consequence of the Taliban leadership’s attempts to sustain the current conflict and rally supporters even as its raison

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