Afghan villagers expel the Taliban

U.S. Brig. Gen. John Charlton (right) with Afghan National Civil Order Police brigade commander Gul Mohammed Rasikh at the U.S. base in Ghazni province.
U.S. Brig. Gen. John Charlton (right) with Afghan National Civil Order Police brigade commander Gul Mohammed Rasikh at the U.S. base in Ghazni province. (ROBERT BURNS / Associated Press)

The U.S. military has become aware of such small-scale acts, but is proceeding cautiously.

Posted: October 19, 2012

AB BAND, Afghanistan - Fed up with the Taliban closing their schools and committing other acts of oppression, men in a village about 100 miles south of Kabul took up arms late last spring and chased out the insurgents with no help from the Afghan government or U.S. military.

Small-scale revolts in recent months like the one in Kunsaf, mostly along a stretch of desert south of the Afghan capital, indicate bits of a grassroots, do-it-yourself anti-insurgency that the United States hopes Afghan authorities can transform into a wider movement. Perhaps it can undercut the Taliban in areas it still dominates after 11 years of war with the United States and NATO allies.

The effort in Ghazni province looks like a long shot. The villagers don't readily embrace any outside authority, be it the Taliban, the United States or the Afghan government.

American officials nonetheless are quietly nurturing the trend, hoping it might become a game changer, or at least a new roadblock for the Taliban. At the same time, they are adamant that if anyone can persuade the villagers to side with the Afghan government, it's the Afghans - not the Americans.

"If we went out there and talked to them we would taint these groups and it would backfire," said Army Brig. Gen. John Charlton, the senior American adviser to the Afghan military in provinces along the southern approaches to Kabul.

Charlton, who witnessed similar stirrings in Iraq while serving as a commander there in 2007, said that in some cases the Taliban is fighting back fiercely, killing leaders of the armed uprisings. In Kunsaf, for example, the Taliban killed several village fighters in skirmishes as recently as last month, but the Taliban suffered heavy losses and has thus far failed to retake the village.

The American general visited two military bases in the area last week - one in Ghazni's Ab Band district that was vacated by a U.S. Army brigade as part of September's U.S. troop drawdown, and the other in nearby Gelan district, where Afghan paramilitary police forces are moving in to fill the gap left by the Americans. Charlton found far fewer paramilitary police there than he says are needed; he is nudging the Afghans to get hundreds more into the area to put more pressure on the Taliban in support of the village uprisings.

Charlton said the U.S. and its coalition partners are taking a behind-the-scenes role - encouraging the Afghans to court the villagers while finding a role for U.S. Special Forces soldiers to forge the villagers into a fighting force as members of the Kabul-sanctioned Afghan Local Police.

Some have compared the apparently spontaneous uprisings withi the Iraq war's Anbar Awakening of 2007, in which Sunni Arab tribes in the western province of Anbar turned on al-Qaeda in their midst, joined forces with the Americans, and dealt a blow that many credit with turning the tide of that conflict.

By coincidence, the first localized movement to draw outside attention in Afghanistan was in Ghazni's Andar district, about 100 miles south of Kabul. Thus some U.S. analysts are calling this the Andar Awakening, drawing an Iraq war parallel that even the most optimistic American commanders say is a stretch.

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