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.
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While the death toll of US and NATO troops has climbed since their 2001 invasion – to a total of at least 2,480 – Afghan civilians have taken the heaviest losses. In 2010 alone – the bloodiest year of the war – 2,777 Afghan civilians were killed. And despite outrage over continued NATO-caused civilian deaths, United Nations data suggest that the number of Afghans killed by international forces dropped by 26 percent last year – with insurgents blamed for 75 percent of civilian deaths.Skip to next paragraph
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As some civilians try to band together to create security, the problems arising are reminiscent of the civil war and possibly beyond the control of foreign forces.
NATO and Afghan forces have nearly doubled in the Arghandab. Local policing efforts have become firmly entrenched, so violence has dramatically decreased. But the damage of the siegelike conditions Nagahan villagers faced before the surge remains: While they had freedom of movement inside their village, they couldn't safely leave. As a result, most farmers were forced to sell produce at below-market prices to the few merchants willing to risk a trip here.
"The insecurity affected us a lot, especially the fruit farmers," says Shabaz Khan, who grows pomegranates and grapes near Nagahan in an area called Lowy Manarah. "People couldn't go out and take care of their farms, and [many] fruit trees died."
When the Russians came, villagers here say they were among some of the first to resist. During the Taliban's rule in the 1990s, Nagahan managed to remain semiautonomous when it surrendered early on and brokered a deal that allowed residents to keep weapons and police their own town.
When the Taliban began a resurgence in 2006, Nagahan was at a crossroad: People here were not natural enemies of the Taliban and some were even sympathetic, but they had relatively friendly relations with NATO and the Afghan government.
"The Taliban would say they were the real representatives of Islam, that they would provide a peaceful atmosphere, and that they would give people money," says Haji Pahlawan, an elder in Nagahan. "The people who supported the Taliban used to warn them that they needed to bring ... basic services, otherwise they would stop supporting them...."
When this didn't happen and the Taliban started killing civilians, most people in Nagahan turned against the insurgency. The area's history of self-policing made it a natural choice for the US Special Forces program to develop village security organizations that would become known as the Afghan Local Police (ALP).
A year after the wedding bombing, the program is firmly established and US forces now refer to the area as the "Nagahan security bubble."
"The US forces are increasing their operations, but they don't know who is from here and who isn't," says Mr. Shahjan. "The ALP are the ones really making the situation better."
It is unclear whether the program can transfer well to other areas. With Afghanistan's history of militias and tribalism, it's not surprising that there are already reports that ALP units are extorting people in their areas. Residents here are almost exclusively Pashtun.
But the north is a heavy mix of Pasthuns, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Tajiks, and militias are usually made up of one ethnic group that harasses rival groups.
Editor's note: This is part of a cover story project that is a report card on the surge, with on-the-ground reports from three facets of the surge: the US military, the Afghan security forces, and the Afghans themselves.