Posts Tagged ‘Nuristan’
THE Taliban fighter, wearing a black balaclava, dark glasses and black clothes, raised a long, thin cane above his head before bringing it down on the villager’s bare back with a deft flick of his wrist.
The villager, identified only as Amanullah, 28, writhed on the grass with his hands tied behind his back as fellow residents of Bala Deh, a village in the remote province of Nuristan, in northeast Afghanistan, looked on. After 70 lashes Amanullah could barely stand when the Taliban untied him.
His crime? Failing to grow his beard long enough.
“We couldn’t do anything except watch,” said Haji Saeed Ahmad, 51, a teacher, who said he had been forced to witness the punishment. “They try to control you with fear.”
Ahmad and others from Kamdesh, a mountainous district of Nuristan, said the Taliban had been beating locals for smoking cigarettes, listening to music or chewing snuff since they arrived three months ago.
The morality police, who dress from head to toe in black, hark back to the Taliban’s rule in the late 1990s when the notorious vice and virtue ministry was established to enforce a strict moral code.
The ministry’s 30,000-strong force beat women for revealing any trace of skin, smashed televisions, banned music and kite-flying and forced men to grow long beards.
Today in Kamdesh, residents describe morality squads, their faces hidden by black balaclavas, who behave even more aggressively. “They’re so strict they even beat their own people if they catch them breaking the rules,” a United Nations official said.
The birth of these radical morality squads – the first to appear in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime fell in 2001 – highlights one of the risks inherent in Nato’s plan to pull out most of its soldiers by the end of 2014.
American forces withdrew from Nuristan in 2010. So great was the ensuing security vacuum that, in the months that followed, Osama bin Laden told his commanders that their “first option” was to decamp to Nuristan if they wanted to escape the CIA’s drones in Pakistan.
In a letter to one of his most senior military commanders, the Al-Qaeda chief wrote in October 2010: “[Nuristan] is more fortified due to its rougher terrain … and it can accommodate hundreds of the brothers without being spotted by the enemy. This will defend the brothers from the aircrafts.”
But Nuristan’s security void – a product of American abandonment and Afghan government neglect – not only attracted Al-Qaeda operatives: Pakistani militants affiliated to an array of Jihadi groups entered in even greater numbers, according to Afghan and UN officials, analysts and local journalists.
Over the last two years, an increasing number have sought shelter among the pine forests, soaring snow-capped mountains, lush valleys and stone hamlets that make up one of Afghanistan’s most isolated provinces.
Local journalists who have met insurgent commanders report the presence of Pakistan’s militant proxy Lashkar-e-Taiba, other groups affiliated to the Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Salafi militants and ordinary Taliban.
This mix taking refuge along the border with Pakistan has grown so toxic that American Special Forces plan to increase their strike operations in Nuristan to prevent militants from infiltrating neighbouring regions, according to a senior western official. Read the rest of this entry »
Back to the battle in Nuristan’s Doab district. Fresh details have emerged that seem to contradict ISAF’s public version of the battle, which took place in May this year.
An article in the Christian Science Monitor on Tuesday strongly suggests that the fight between US forces and insurgents for control of the district centre was far more violent than ISAF initially let on.
ISAF told me in June that there was no evidence to suggest that insurgents had reached the district centre or, needless to say, had the insurgents ever controlled the district centre. However, an American major general quoted in the CSM piece says:
At the end of the day, the insurgents held the district center for 24 hours…
The Americans dropped 14 bombs on insurgent positions, killing 200 of the 300 fighters, according to an F-15 fighter pilot interviewed for the same article. American forces on the ground were surrounded and outnumbered about 10-1, the article states.
The F-15 fighter pilot said:
It’s extremely rare that we find ourselves in a fight where we deploy all of our bombs. But that day we dropped everything we had….Our guys got really close to being overrun.
Sounds slightly more violent than the sanitised account provided in the ISAF press release about the battle. I’ve highlighted the bits in bold that are at odds with the Air Force and Army commanders’ accounts. Read the rest of this entry »
In keeping with the Nuristan theme, I thought I’d add a small detail that was left out of the story on Sunday.
Maulana Fazlullah, nicknamed the “Radio Mullah” after he launched a pirate radio station in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in 2006, is apparently still hiding in Nuristan despite claims that he was killed in May 2010.
When US special forces and Afghan commandos air assaulted into Nuristan’s Barg-e-Matal district earlier this year (after insurgents had overrun the district centre for the fifth time), one of the US-Afghan units involved in the operation landed inside one of Fazlullah’s bases, according to western security analysts and an intelligence official.
The Afghan commandos killed 25 militants and captured five Swatis during the raid on Fazlullah’s compound, according to one of the analysts with access to Nato incident reports. Read the rest of this entry »
The Al-Qaeda instructor spent an hour schooling his protégé, a 12-year-old Afghan boy, in the art of suicide bombing.
Flanked by retired officers from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Arab militant is said to have shown the boy how to approach his target calmly before pressing the handheld button that would detonate the explosives.
At the end of the lesson, the trainer strapped a suicide vest over the child’s clothes and told him to demonstrate what he had learnt.
“Okay, so I walk like this,” the boy said as he walked across the living room of a house built from mud and stone in the hamlet of Chatras in Nuristan province. “And then I press this button. Like this?”
Before anyone could stop him, he pressed the detonator. The blast killed seven men — two Al-Qaeda trainers, three Taliban fighters and, according to Afghan officials, two agents from a shadowy unit of retired ISI agents called S Wing, which supplies military advisers to the insurgents.
“Maybe the boy’s family sent him over to the Taliban or perhaps they chose him because he was an orphan,” said a senior Afghan source, whose account of the incident was confirmed by the province’s police chief.
The boy and four other suicide bombers were being primed to cause chaos in Parun, Nuristan’s capital, at the start of a planned Taliban assault aimed at seizing control.
The explosion three weeks ago stalled their advance, but not for long. Last week the Taliban had Parun surrounded, according to Afghan officials and western analysts.
The Afghan government was forced to airlift supplies into the city by helicopter to deal with shortages of butter, flour, fuel, tea and sugar. “It’s medieval. They’re trying to starve the population so that they rise up against the government,” said Ahmadullah Moahid, a local MP. “You can’t even get snuff.”
If the Taliban enter Parun, it will be the first provincial capital to fall since the start of the decade-long war.
Insurgents have already regained control of much of Nuristan, including the entire district of Waygal, where they have smashed televisions and beaten up men without beards for failing to comply with their interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law. Read the rest of this entry »
The Sunday Times, Combat Outpost Monti, Kunar Province
Specialist Alexander Miller had been watching a mysterious Afghan standing in a cornfield for 20 minutes. But it took only a split second for the American soldier to be mortally wounded.
As Miller turned his back momentarily, the Afghan picked up a weapon hidden at his feet and fired a burst. One of the rounds tore into the 21- year-old soldier’s groin. Troops rushed to apply pressure to the wound as they called in a helicopter, but he was dead on arrival at the nearest field hospital.
Miller, a keen roller-hockey player with a goofy smile, left behind a girlfriend in Clermont, Florida. He was one of three American soldiers killed in the battle for Barji Matal, a village in the eastern province of Nuristan that nestles in a fertile valley surrounded by the barren peaks of the Hindu Kush.
Nuristan’s rugged landscape, dotted with stone huts encircled by farmland, formed the backdrop to Rudyard Kipling’s short story The Man Who Would Be King, written when the province was still called Kafiristan or “Land of the Infidels” for its struggle to resist the spread of Islam. American commanders say little has changed since the story was written: the province’s clans still retain a fierce independence.
US troops clash daily with Taliban militants over control of this isolated region on the Pakistan border. But as President Barack Obama reconsiders his overall strategy in Afghanistan, military officials on the ground are questioning the purpose of sending soldiers into sparsely populated areas such as Barji Matal when the army lacks the resources to hold on to them. They argue that such battles reduce the military’s capacity to conduct counterinsurgency operations along the porous border with Pakistan.
It was in mid-July that President Hamid Karzai asked for 100 American soldiers to go to the village after Taliban militants overran it.
The soldiers believed they could secure Barji Matal within a week, allowing 500 farmers to return to their work in the flour mill and cornfields. But the date for their withdrawal came and went with soldiers bogged down in close-quarter combat. One was killed instantly when a Taliban fighter popped up 10 yards ahead of his position and loosed off a burst of machinegun fire.
“We made the decision to stay to ensure that we didn’t spend all that money, blood, sweat and tears for nothing,” said Captain Albert Bryant, commanding officer of C Company in the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. Read the rest of this entry »