America looking for divisions in Taliban
US intelligence agencies have launched an intensive effort to examine the various tribes supporting the Afghan militancy to determine whether some can be broken off.
Top military and intelligence officials say they know far too little about the disparate groups they are fighting and believe many fighters have been incorrectly labelled as the Taliban.
"You have a whole spectrum of bad guys that sort of get lumped into this catch-all term of Taliban ... because they're launching bullets at us," a senior defence official told Boston Globe.
"There are many of the groups that can probably be peeled off," he added.
The initiative involves hundreds of intelligence operatives and analysts in the US and overseas, and is expected to culminate later this year in a detailed, classified analysis of the various Taliban factions and other groups.
The effort is considered crucial to the long-term success of President Barack Obama's goal of crushing the remnants of al-Qaeda and bringing stability to the region.
The first step, officials said, will be identifying the remnants of the Afghan Taliban who ruled Afghanistan until it was overthrown by US-led forces in late 2001 for harbouring the planners of the 9/11 attacks.
Then there are al-Qaeda's leaders and other Arabs aligned with them who used Afghanistan as a haven to plan attacks on the US. But there are other foreign elements, including Uzbeks, Chechens, and Uighurs, whose ultimate intentions are less understood, officials said.
There also is the so-called Pakistani Taliban like Baitullah Mehsud. And there are also criminal elements such as the drug smugglers "who don't like anybody setting up shop in their area".