Afghan Villagers Attack Taliban

Villagers attacked the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, a rare instance of locals turning on insurgents after being promised aid money and security by the government.

Friday’s confrontation was welcome news for Afghan and U.S. authorities, in what is shaping up to be one of the bloodiest months for the U.S-led coalition since the start of the war.

Tribesmen in Nangarhar, a province in the east, broke ties with the Taliban after being promised development money and security at a pair of meetings with Afghan officials in recent months, said tribal elders and a spokesman for the provincial government, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai.

While Mr. Abdulzai said the effort that led to Friday’s clash was purely the work of the provincial government, U.S. civilian and military officials have been working with Afghan authorities to try the same strategy in other parts of the country. Those efforts, however, have met with limited success.

The fighting in Nangarhar, which was reported over the weekend, began after Taliban fighters attempted to kidnap an Afghan army officer in the Achin district, witnesses said. The officer escaped and took refuge among villagers, who refused to turn him over to insurgents.

The Taliban then attacked, prompting a firefight with the villagers, who killed three insurgents and captured 11, said Mr. Abdulzai, the provincial spokesman. Nearly a half-dozen villagers who witnessed the fighting confirmed his account.

The villagers handed over 10 prisoners to authorities and kept one in hopes of exchanging him for a tribesman being held by the Taliban, Mr. Abdulzai said.

Until recently, there was strong support in the area for the Taliban and an allied insurgent group, Hizb-i-Islami Khalis, say members of the dominant tribe in the area, the Shinwaris.

But the government “told us that if we don’t stop harboring the Taliban, the Americans will bomb us,” said Ismat Shinwari, an elder who attended a meeting of tribal elders and provincial officials two months ago. “Our district and village has been frequently attacked by American and Afghan forces.”

Afghan officials also promised money for building roads, schools and clinics.

It isn’t clear whether Friday’s clash signals that U.S. and Afghan authorities can peel off more tribesmen from the Taliban.

Nangarhar is among the least-violent provinces in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban are strongest. Tribal structures are stronger in eastern Afghanistan than in many other parts of the country. Some analysts say that could account for why officials appear to be succeeding there.

Elsewhere, tribal elders have seen their power eroded by three decades of conflict, allowing the Taliban to more easily co-opt or ally with tribes, said Waheed Muzjda, an independent analyst based in Kabul.

Similar efforts by villagers to resist the Taliban across the border in Pakistan have had mixed results.

The failure of authorities to support a local anti-Taliban effort last year in the Buner district of northwestern Pakistan in part paved the way for a militant takeover of the area. That, in turn, brought about the collapse of a peace deal with the Taliban in the neighboring Swat Valley and sparked a large-scale campaign by the army against the militants.

A more recent anti-Taliban effort by villagers in the Upper Dir district of Pakistan has been aided by military support and appears to have had more of an impact.

Both areas are on the fringes of Taliban-controlled Pakistan. There has been little open resistance to the Taliban in the militants’ heartland along the border with Afghanistan.

The Taliban on Saturday posted a video on the Internet of a U.S. soldier they captured in June in eastern Afghanistan. On Sunday, the Department of Defense identified the 23-year-old soldier as Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, of Ketchum, Idaho.

In the video, the solider — seen dressed in a gray robes with his head shaved — says: “I’m scared I won’t be able to go home.” He then implores Americans to pressure the government into pulling out of Afghanistan. Pfc. Bergdahl went missing after leaving his base in eastern Afghanistan in the Paktika province.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.