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2 The vultures are
circling By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - In the plains of southwestern
Afghanistan, confident Taliban move around openly
with their weaponry, to the frustration of North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Afghan
National Army (ANA) troops who can see them, but
seem helpless in containing them.
foreign troops are mostly held hostage in their
bases, and their alternatives are stark: conduct
aerial bombings in which
civilians would surely be
heavy casualties, or pull out.
The mood on
the ground in Afghanistan is that the latter
option will prevail.
"It was really fun to
fight with the Soviets [in the 1980s], but not so
with the Americans. I remember once, three Soviet
soldiers were besieged by mujahideen. They were
injured and they had the chance to retreat and be
airlifted. But they refused and fought till their
last. They had a certain level of conviction. The
Americans do not have this," Khuda-i-Rahim told
Asia Times Online.
Khuda-i-Rahim is a
veteran commander. He lost a leg, both arms and
some sight in a bomb explosion in Kandahar while
fighting against Russian troops. He spent some
time in the US in the 1980s and now lives in
Baghran in the northernmost district of Helmand
"They [Americans] hear the sound
of a single bullet fired in the air and they do
not dare to go to the place where the bullet was
fired. The Russians stayed in Afghanistan for 11
years because of their conviction, but against the
determination of the Afghan resistance they
finally withdrew. I don't see a chance that once
there is a national uprising like the one against
the Russians, the Americans will stay for a few
months," said Khuda-i-Rahim.
Afghan insurgency is widely viewed as a highly
ideologically motivated movement along the lines
of al-Qaeda and similar to the Taliban uprising of
the mid-1990s in which fanatical
madrassa-educated youths seized power.
Certainly, the present Afghan resistance
against foreign troops and the administration of
President Hamid Karzai is undoubtedly led by
Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Islam is
unquestionably the binding force. Nevertheless, at
ground level the field command is in the hands of
seasoned commanders who fought against the Soviets
and who are driven more by Afghan traditions than
The Afghan battle strategy
has always been based on preserving strength by
appearing to give way to the enemy by letting them
parade through the country in search operations
that only upset the population.
invaders, this is exhausting and brings small
results. The resistance, meanwhile, is everywhere,
watching and waiting like vultures, ready to
swoop. Such is the situation in the Sangin
district of Helmand province, just 2.5 kilometers
from Kandahar city.
A long and rough
road We were due to travel from Musa Qala
to Sangin to meet Qari Hazrat, the younger brother
of slain veteran Afghan commander Abdul Khaliq.
Qari Hazrat is the commander of the Gerishk
district and a part of the Taliban movement. Parts
of Sangin also fall under his jurisdiction. We
were to meet him here, just a few kilometers from
a NATO base.
After a long and rough ride
we came to the village where we were to meet Qari
Hazrat. It was virtually deserted and we didn't
have a clue as to how to get to the meeting place
among the maze of narrow streets.
finally spotted a youngster, and asked, "Do you
know where Qari Hazrat lives?" It seemed foolish
to be asking this kid for the whereabouts of one
of the most wanted Taliban figures in southwestern
Afghanistan, but to my surprise the boy thought
for a moment and asked, "Taliban?" He pondered
some more and gave us directions to a place where
he said we should ask about the Taliban. "They
live there," said the boy, speaking quickly.
I thanked him, thinking how strange it was
that a youngster should have such information.
Eventually we arrived at Qari Hazrat's
residence, where we were greeted by his brother.
In the meantime, the villagers, as happens when
any strangers arrive, gathered in the courtyard to
gape at us sitting on mats on the floor. The
compound's grass was burned, as if it had been
bombed. After a few cups of plain black tea,
several young men took us to a nearby field from
where we could see the NATO base.
the area where US Special Forces conducted their
first ground operations in Helmand province after
the fall of the Taliban [in 2001] and arrested
about 300 Taliban," said Abdul Rauf, one of the
"Until last year, foreigners came to
the area every now and then and conducted
house-to-house searches. They used to enter any
house of their choice at any time, whether day or
night. Now the Taliban have come to the area and
whenever they [NATO] try to do any patrolling or
search operations, they come under heavy attack.
"For three months now, there has hardly
been any effort on the part of NATO forces to come
out from their base. They are sitting in their
base and the Taliban are sitting in the village.
The Taliban don't attack their base, nor do they
attack us," said Abdul Rauf.
The area has
suffered aerial bombardment in the past, and the
remains of mud houses are visible all over the
village. We reached a watercourse used to irrigate
poppy fields, and stopped to take pictures of the
NATO base. Suddenly, we saw helicopters - one
Apache and one ordinary one - taking off from the
NATO base and heading toward us.
last year they used to land in these fields and
drop men for ground operations, but now they
remain in the air and do not drop bombs. Now they
just fly around, and presumably take supplies to
their troops in the base. They are no longer able
to use trucks and vehicles for supplies," Abdul
"Why don't you shoot down
these helicopters?" I asked.
"We did shoot
down one helicopter, but then they bombed the
villages. So we avoid doing that," said Abdul
Shortly before dusk, Qari Hazrat
finally arrived, along with a band of men equipped
with rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47s, mortars