Among the Taliban

Nir Rosen, a very smart reporter who I worked with, briefly, at Time (where he was one of the first to recognize the ascent of Muqtada al-Sadr), has a great piece of reporting from Afghanistan in Rolling Stone. A taste:

In the darkness, we roll into the village of Nughi. We no longer have cellphone reception; the Taliban shut down the phone towers after sunset, when they stop for the night, to prevent U.S. surveillance from pinpointing their position. It is the holiday of Shaab eh Barat, when Muslims believe God determines a person’s destiny for the coming year. Young boys from the village gather to swing balls of fire attached to wires. Like orange stars, hundreds of fiery circles glow far into the distance. The practice is haram — one of many traditions banned by the Taliban, who consider it forbidden under Islam. The fact that it is being tolerated is the first indication I have that the Taliban are not as doctrinaire as they were during their seven years of rule.

Shafiq maneuvers the car on the bumpy dirt road between mud houses. After a few stops in the village we are led to a house where a group of young Taliban fighters emerges. Several of them are carrying weapons. We greet the traditional way, each man placing his right hand on the other’s heart, leaning in but not fully embracing, inquiring about the other’s health and family. Ibrahim, who had promised to protect me on the trip, decides to go home, leaving Shafiq to guide me the rest of the way.

With the moon lighting our path, Shafiq and I follow the Taliban on foot to another house, entering through a low door into a guest room with a red carpet on the floor and wooden beams on the ceiling.

A dim bulb barely illuminates the room. A PKM belt-fed machine gun and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher lean against a wall, next to several rockets. We are joined by Mullah Yusuf, Ibrahim’s nephew, who serves as a senior commander in Andar.

Yusuf has dark reddish skin and a handsome face. He wears a black turban with thin gold stripes and carries an AK-47. A boy brings a pitcher and basin and we rinse our hands. We drink green tea and eat a soup of mushy bread called shurwa with our hands, followed by meat and grapes.

Yusuf became a commander last year, when the Americans killed his superior officer. He sleeps in a different house every night to avoid detection. Only 30 years old, he has big ears and an almost elfin air; the ringtone on his cellphone is a bells-and-cymbals version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice theme. A year and a half ago, Yusuf was injured in his thigh by a U.S. helicopter strike, and now walks with a limp. He joined the Taliban in 2003 after studying at a religious school in North Waziristan, the border region of Pakistan where many Afghan refugees live. He seems less motivated by religious ideals than by defending his homeland: He took up jihad, he tells me, because foreigners have come to Afghanistan and are fighting Afghans and poor people.

“The Americans are not good,” he says. “They go into houses and put people in jail. Fifteen days ago the Americans bombed here and killed a civilian.”

The U.S. campaign in Afghanistan has not been helped by its rash of misguided bombings. This year, according to the United Nations, 1,445 Afghan civilians were killed by coalition forces through August — two-thirds of them in airstrikes. On July 6th, a bombing raid killed 47 members of a wedding party — including 39 women and children — near the village of Kacu. On August 22nd, more than 90 civilians — again mostly women and children — were killed in an airstrike in Azizabad.

See the whole thing here; h/t Rootless Cosmopolitan

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