After a suicide bombing, an Afghan village turns against Taliban
A suicide bombing at the wedding of the chief of a US-backed Afghan village anti-insurgency unit soured even the strongest holdouts for the Taliban.
After much hand-wringing, Abdhul Haleem came home to this farming village in the Arghandab Valley last June. He'd spent the previous year in Kandahar City to escape the insecurities of the Taliban's grip on the area. The occasion was the wedding of a friend who had joined an anti-Taliban local protection force set up by American Special Operations Forces. Their efforts, and a surge of NATO forces, had created a respite from violence.Skip to next paragraph
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"The people of Nagahan are in control of the village," Mr. Haleem recalls locals saying. "The situation is under control."
For all his indecision about coming back, it took only quick notice of an unfamiliar "fat-looking" wedding guest for Haleem to know the situation was not under control. He and hundreds of wedding guests sat on carpets spread in a field. He saw the man approach the cooking area and he realized the bulkiness wasn't natural – there was something under the man's clothes. In the next instant, there was a flash and a blast. Forty people were killed and nearly 90 injured – huge collateral damage for a Taliban attack aimed at the groom and a score of guests on the anti-Taliban force.
IN PICTURES: Winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan
It was the final straw for villagers – if they'd been on the fence before, such carnage soured them on the Taliban. But none say it pushed them totally into the camp of Western forces, whose surge of 30,000 additional troops aimed to eliminate insurgents and their havens, especially here in Kandahar Province, their historic stronghold. At best, locals seem neutral about the ongoing surge, glad to have what security it has offered, but attributing its gains to local security forces.
War and its shifting alliances are a part of the cultural DNA here: Large swaths of the village are crumbling ruins from the Soviet war of the 1980s. During decades of fighting, the economy has struggled to grow beyond subsistence farming. Here where the barren desert ends in cultivated greenery near the river, Taliban forces found easy cover amid vineyards and orchards, shaking down locals and laying land mines for Western forces.
And it is civilians like those here who have taken the heaviest losses in the course of the West's war in Afghanistan. Most in a district like the Arghandab have lost family to fighting. Take Nagahan elder Haji Shahjan: Asked if he'd been personally affected by the violence, the aging farmer stroked his white beard and said it hadn't really touched his life. Then he paused, sifting the clutter of violence in his memory, and revised: His son was killed by a suicide bomber three years ago.