|Akbari says he will not negotiate with the government until foreign troops leave
The former mayor of Afghanistan's Herat province is now the most powerful local Taliban commander.
Ghullam Yahya Akbari told Al Jazeera that he will not negotiate with the Afghan government as long as foreign troops are on Afghan soil.
Given exclusive access to one of his 20 mountain bases hidden deep inside rugged terrain that Akbari says were also used to fight the Russians, Al Jazeera's Qais Azimy found a group of at least 60 well-armed Taliban fighters.
Akbari's steely resolve to fight foreign forces comes amid reports of many soldiers defecting to the Taliban. Many are unhappy with the "un-Islamic" ways of the foreign troops.
Young and old
Some in Akbari's camps were just teenagers, others old enough to be enjoying retirement, but all had left families behind and were committed to the fight to push international troops out of Afghanistan.
"I will continue jihad against the Americans who have invaded our soil until the last drop of blood remains in my body," Askar, one of the fighters, said.
Akbari said he had 20 bases training fighters
in the rugged mountain area
The food they eat is mostly dry bread, but the fighters do have satellite television and complaints appear rare.
"We are not doing jihad for our stomachs, we are doing jihad for Allah," another fighter said.
Akbari said the 20 mountain bases under his charge were also used by some of the same fighters to drive out the Russians in the 1980s.
"People may wonder why we live up in the mountains. That's because we want to avoid civilian casualties and fight with guerrilla tactics," he said.
The former mayor is not interested in peace talks and said he would even turn his guns against Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, if he negotiated with the Afghan government.
"I do not believe that Mullah Omar would do that but if they sit with the Afghan government and negotiate then for us they will be like all the other members of the government and we'll continue our jihad," Akbari said.
The fighters said they were willing to fight
to the death
A spokesperson for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) dismissed suggestions of an increase in Taliban support.
"While they were in power this was the worst administration in the history of the country so why would the people of Afghanistan want the Taliban back?" Brigadier-General Richard Blanchette said.
But Al Jazeera's Azimy said the group had grown in its reach since he last met the fighters more than a month before.
It now held three young policemen hostage and appeared to be a real threat, he said.
Twenty Afghan members of parliament have meanwhile gone on strike in protest at the worsening security situation in Herat, and over what they say is the government's inability to fix it.
The move is another sign of the difficulties facing Nato-led forces in bringing peace to the country.
Al Jazeera's Dan Nolan, reporting from Kabul, said that the strikes reflect further discontent on the part of Afghan officials.
"The security situation, and the increased attacks by Taliban fighters has many fearing that they can no longer protect themselves or depend on the government to come to their aid," he said.
Khalid Pashtun, a member of parliament, told Al Jazeera: "The MPs from Herat are telling us that, for the past few months, they have been expressing their concern, wanting to replace the governor and some of the higher authority people in Herat, but so far there is no response back from the central government.
"I would agree with Nato that Akbari is not really a big threat to Herat security. But for the past few years he has tried destabilising the area. Lately, in Herat kidnapping is increasing, and most of these actions were blamed on him."
Pashtun explained that Akbari was a prominent commander and that after the Russians left Afghanistan he was mayor of Herat between 1992 and 1996.
"He was a very successful mayor. When the Taliban was in power, he was exiled to Iran, and we heard he was selling vegetables there, so he was extremely poor.
"Since this government took over, he has been the head of the public works department. But one of his conditions for coming back was that he would be in the mountains until they replace the governor, but this condition has not been met yet."