Thursday, September 20, 2007

A journalist's diary of Afghanistan

Radio Free Europe's Belgian correspondent traveled on a junket to Afghanistan to observe NATO's military operation there. [Readers interested in RFE's CIA origins can see wikipedia here.] He wrote a short diary for the RFE website. While most of it suffers from a case of white man's burden, he has some original comments about the Taliban and their NATO nemesis. Excerpts:

Much of the anecdotal evidence I have come across suggests the Taliban is a grass-roots phenomenon, better understood in terms of perceived local grievances than highly organized jihadist ideology. Estonian troops fighting in Helmand told me in February that the enemy "farms by day and fights by night."

A local elder from Dand district near Kandahar insisted that NATO, as much as Pakistani-based militants, is to blame for stoking up resentment among the locals... The Dand elder said that fighting the Taliban will only make it stronger. Instead, NATO must talk to the Taliban, he said.

It is striking how little NATO professes to know about its enemy. It routinely distinguishes between "Tier One" militant "irreconcilables" and "Tier Two" foot soldiers, motivated by greed and a list of other mundane concerns. But officials concede most of this is no more than guesswork.

Things appear more complex. Much of the backbone of the unrest in the Pashtun south seems to involve a "Tier Three" of the Taliban -- locals who are simply ignorant of ISAF's goals. One ISAF officer tells me that after ISAF first arrived in 2006, many locals believed "the Russians had returned." The Dand elder says local people still don't know "if the foreigners are coming for cooperation and rebuilding, or just to fight and get the country in their hands."
... Every car which does not stop to let an ISAF convoy pass is in real danger of being fired upon...

[T]here were no friendly faces among the locals as we drove through Zabul. There were, however, little boys miming the pulling of triggers and explosions. I had seen the same mimics in Kandahar the day before. There, a rock thrown by a child landed in my vehicle in a minuscule act of defiance. (link)

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