To foil Soviet expansionism in Afghanistan, the U.S. funded a motley band of Islamic fundamentalists in the '80s. From this movement grew the
Taliban, who imposed order on much of the country at the expense of human rights and, ultimately, the security of the West.
The Taliban, a collection of veterans of the 1979-89 war against Soviet occupation and small-town Muslim pastors, was formed in 1994. Mullah Mohammed Omar, now the effective ruler of the country, was a village preacher and veteran. Legend has it that, after viewing the scene of a brutal highway murder, he organized his Islamic "talibs," or students, as vigilantes against the post-Soviet era warlords and militias perpetrating extortion,
murder, sexual predation and mayhem.
Calling themselves Tehreek-i-Islami-i-Taliban Afghanistan (Taliban, for short), they quickly attracted a mix of ethnic Pashtuns; students from religious schools, or madrassas, in Pakistan; and grizzled mujahedeen, the Islamic warriors who battled the Soviet invaders with training, equipment and money from Pakistan and the CIA.
They began to protect highways and truck convoys, lowering food prices and endearing themselves to a war-weary populace grateful for some law and order. They went from town to town, strictly enforcing the Islamic law of Sharia, disarming local militias and harassing the warlords.
The Taliban headed north, killing 6,000 ethnic Hazaras, taking the capital, Kabul, in September 1996 and brutally executing Syed Muhammad Najibullah, the Afghan president from 1986-92 who had been under U.N. protection.
They closed girls schools, made women stop working and wear the all-enveloping dress called a burqa. Men were forced to wear beards. TV, soccer, music and even kite-flying were banned.
Accused Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden, himself recruited in the covert CIA-Pakistan effort, funded the Taliban_s takeover of Kabul and has helped finance their battles with the Northern Alliance.
Sources: State Department; The Washington Post; The Los Angeles Times; Knight Ridder Newspapers; Gannett News Service; Newhouse News Services; The Associated Press; Reuters; Times staff research