ARLINGTON, Va. — Six years after the start of the Afghanistan war, the Taliban continues to enjoy a “strong recruiting base” of susceptible young men and boys, a U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Tuesday.

These military-age boys and men view the Taliban as strong and educated leaders, said Army Col. Jonathan Ives, commander of Task Force Cincinnatus, which is responsible for operations in northeast Afghanistan.

“The Taliban at this time has an established rapport with the community and sometimes they are seen as being the right answer, or a secure answer, over the unrest that may exist between the criminal elements and/or the power struggles that exist from one to the other or other type of criminal killings,” Ives said.

Afghanistan expert Tom Gouttierre said he agreed with Ives’ assessment and added that the Taliban are also able to recruit members from outside Afghanistan.

“Large numbers of them are from Pakistan and other parts of the Muslim world, including people from Chechnya as well from central Asian countries, such as Uzbekistan,” said Gouttierre, dean of International Studies and Programs at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Among the Afghans who join the Taliban are former refugees who grew up in Pakistan and attended madrassas there, said Gouttierre, who is also director of the university’s Center of Afghan Studies.

Gouttierre said the solution to the problem is for the central government, instead of corrupt local officials, to provide more security to Afghans.

Along those lines, Ives said that Afghan troops and police need to have a stronger presence in isolated valleys to disrupt the Taliban’s ability to recruit.

Ives acknowledged that the Afghan police are two to three years behind the Afghan army, but he said efforts are under way to develop them to the point where they can serve as peers for young men.

“The young youth can start to see the police as someone that they want to emulate, they want to be a part of, they want to do what they’re doing in helping the community, in helping Afghanistan,” Ives said.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up