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Afghans' Fear of Reprisal Stands in the Way of U.S. Strategy

4 years ago
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David Wood
Chief Military Correspondent
ROHANI, Afghanistan -- President Obama's problem in Afghanistan is Abdul Nabib.

At first, Abdul Nabib was insistent: no Taliban anywhere around. The elderly man grinned, perhaps at the baldness of this lie, revealing a row of missing teeth. He squatted comfortably on the hard-packed earth, draped in soiled white robes with a long beard to match. He squinted into the hard sunlight. We are perfectly safe, he said.

That was hard to credit, and Capt. William Alfonzo Biggs Jr., a U.S. cavalry commander, gave a grunt of disbelief. This squalid, adobe-walled village, lacking running water and electricity, among other things, is just south of Kandahar city. There and across this region, the Taliban are putting up hard, violent resistance to the growing U.S. and allied military presence. A key Taliban strategy is threatening Afghans against having any dealings with Afghan or Western security forces or the Afghan government. Those who do are punished.

Afghan WarJust down the road from here, two men were hanged by the Taliban, another beheaded. Earlier this week, a suicide bomber narrowly missed the district governor, killing instead six children in a fiery explosion.

The Obama administration's Afghanistan strategy depends on American troops being able to convince men like Abdul Nabib to ignore Taliban threats and to embrace Afghan security, government services and the cornucopia of development projects offered by the international community.

That's the strategy. Fear stands in its way.

Biggs had come in search of a villager who would agree to oversee a development project already approved and funded for Rohani: reconstruction of badly eroded lanes through the village -- a need that its elders had once said was their highest priority.

No go. The village's two maliks, or mayors, had fled. Most elders had scattered. No one else would volunteer.

The sun beat down and a foul stink rose from a clogged ditch. A crowd of ragged children craned their necks to watch U.S. Army helicopters clatter overhead. At the entrance to the village, four of Biggs' armored gun trucks growled at idle and his troopers stood guard. Biggs asked whether girls were allowed in the village school.

Instead of answering directly, the old man burst into a tirade. "We are in the middle!" he cried. "We can't say anything to you, and we can't say anything to them." What he meant: Americans push education for girls. The Taliban forbid it.

Biggs handed him a stack of cards, each bearing the location and phone numbers for the local police. "If you have trouble, call these numbers," he said.

Nabib reacted with alarm. "But what if they ask about these?"

"Hide them," said Biggs.

"But they search everyplace -- more than you," said Nabib.

Aha, said Biggs. "So there are Taliban in the village!"

"Being really honest, yes, definitely they come sometimes. But we can't tell you where they are," the old man said. "After sunset they come. We don't come out of our compounds.

"We are living in fear."

"We have no power to face them or you," he complained. "We are just like a soccer ball being kicked by both sides."

"We are not here to kill insurgents or anyone," said Biggs. "We are not here for you to join our team, but just to deliver government and security to your village."

The old man snorted. "They are also telling us this same speech, that they are here to protect us," he muttered.

"I look around and I see pumps, wells, irrigation ditches – the insurgents didn't build them," Biggs retorted. "We did, your government did. The insurgents don't do that. We do. We have other projects planned, better roads. We can't do that because the Taliban have scared people away."

His voice rose in frustration. "We're just here to help!"

The Taliban, already effective at this kind of intimidation, is nonetheless bearing down even harder. Its command recently issued a new 69-page field directive ordering Taliban fighters to kill anyone cooperating with foreign troops or the Afghan government, according to officials of the International Security Assistance Force, the allied high command.

An ISAF spokesman quoted the directive from Taliban chief Mullah Omar as threatening those who support the Afghan government: "We will not leave you alone." (The spokesman cannot be identified under ISAF media regulations.)

Omar's directive is no idle threat. This year has seen a 75 percent leap in the number of Afghan civilians killed by IEDs, according to an analysis in Washington by USA Today. In Kandahar, civilian deaths have jumped 132 percent since last year, as the Taliban cranks up its campaign of intimidation.

Biggs took one of the cards and scrawled his cell phone number on it and thrust it back at the old man. "Use this any time you need us," he said. Nabib handed the card off to one of the young men squatting beside him.

"We talk to you now," Nabib said. "I guarantee this evening the message will be out" that the village had cooperated with the Americans. He handed all the cards back to Biggs.

"If you end up dead, I know this face and this face and this face," Biggs said, pointing to young men in the group.

He buckled on his helmet. "Tell the insurgents that Captain Biggs is here and will be here every night if necessary."

"I have already been told to leave this village," Nabib said as he struggled to his feet. "I already have the warning."
Tagged: taliban
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Politics aside it's a horrible situation thier in. I realise we'd like to move progress forward and give their country a better future "build relations with the middle east" These people dont care about better roads or water systems they're worried about tomorrow... truly upsetting

September 03 2010 at 8:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Can't blame them for being afraid. Remember when we pulled out of Vietnam? All those people who believed in America and helped us out during the war were left behind to be rounded up and killed by the NV? Remember how the Cambodia situation turned out, when America turned its back on them? Remember how Bosnia turned out when America stood down? Who will be there if not us? Who will defend the helpless if not us? Who will stand for good and decentcy, if not us? Watch the chaos when we leave Iran. If you think Hussein was a killer, you haven't seen anything yet...

August 30 2010 at 8:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

they better start doing something about the muslum terist we have here in this country befor they strike us again ,

August 26 2010 at 2:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I feel sorry for the ones that are in fear for their own lives and the elder's are scared more of the taliban then the younger one's cause they have seen so much more. The Talibans have got to be stopped, how can anyone kill children like they have and humans in general. I pray for not only our soldiers but for all of the afghan's and iraq's every single day.

August 23 2010 at 8:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Insensitivity,insanity, prejudice, lack of respet and tolerance is stripping America off of its values and ideals. Whatever happened to ONE NATION UNDER GOD?

August 21 2010 at 12:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Where are the "moderate" muslims?
Where are the rich Arab countries?
This is like Palestine where the Arabs look the other way and let the radicals rule and then blast the West for getting people killed.
The Muslims do nothing for themselves and have done nothing for themselves for centuries.
How can these murders of civilians and their leaders convince anyone that "Allah" says to murder children and poor/destitute civilians.
There will not be any "Virgins" waiting for these murders - only the hell promised the damend in the Koran.

August 12 2010 at 10:25 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Rather than a pull back, we should be pushing for more security in the area. Strength with charity will always conquer fear. It is a shame that we can not see this through.

August 12 2010 at 6:33 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

I didn't understand why was Capitain Biggs there? How does he know that one of those sitting there was no a Taliban informant? I believe that meeting has put the lives of some in danger. I believe we should help the villagers to elect their own leaders and we should help them in whatever they need to build the village so the villagerscan live better and remember America any time they use the facility.Let evry member of the village to vote, Taliban or not Taliban. I don't believe the Capitain should remind them who build that facility. The Capitain should say we helped you to build that. To an Afghan it is a sorcasm to say we build it for you.

August 09 2010 at 9:38 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I've read some comments that we should not try to improve the world, that one hundred years ago women could not vote, children were used in labor. All true and thank God we changed. Somebody has to take the for front in all change the United States is still in the best position to do this. I always remember the admonishment that the United States has a horrible form of government except when we look at all the other governments of the world. If we as Americans don't push the world towards improvement who will?

August 09 2010 at 6:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jwsteele09's comment

Replying to jwsteele's claim that Americans have to be the ones to push the world towards improvement may I add that "the world" and the UN have proven by their actions that they don't want our help to make them better societies ... they only want our money, our food, our protection, our medical supplies and all of it for free! We are continually demonized by the world ... and even by many of our own citizens and legal immigrants. Time to let go of this do-gooder philosophy and try to save our own country from infiltration now.

August 12 2010 at 10:57 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Doctor McCraw

This sounds alot like VietNam. It is absurd to expect these people to risk their lives working with the Americans, especially since we have announced we will soon be leaving. It is also naive to think that we can compromise or negotiate with the Taliban. We either need to get serious and wipe out the Taliban, or we should get out. We can't win "the hearts and minds " of the Afgan people when we can't protect them.

August 09 2010 at 10:14 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

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