Taliban surge in Afghan north

The Washington Post documents the Taliban’s spread in the Afghan north. The province of Faryab, which was once a region of little concern, has become a new Taliban safe haven. The Taliban are sending warnings of their impending arrival, then rolling into towns and taking them over:

In early November, the villagers of Khwaji Kinti awoke to the rumble of motorcycles. The next morning, they discovered that 30 to 40 Taliban, armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled-grenades, had taken charge. Tribal elders pleaded with police to send help. None arrived.

The Taliban was welcomed by a sympathetic mullah and set to work quickly. From the shepherds, it expected “zakat,” or charity: one sheep out of every 40; and it took “usher,” an Islamic tax, from the wheat farmers: 10 percent of the harvest, according to villagers. Its members shut down the lone girls’ school and demanded shelter and meals from different homes each night. Mohammad Hassan, a wheat farmer, said insurgents knocked on his door about once a week after the evening prayer, asking for food. “We’re afraid of the Taliban and the government,” he said. “We’re caught in the middle — we don’t have any power.”

Taliban members executed a man known as Sayid Arif, who they said worked for the Afghan government, by pulling him from his car and shooting him. They left him in the road with a note on his chest that said for whoever works with the government, “this is the punishment,” said a tribal elder named Abdullah.

The Taliban began to settle disputes with arbitrary punishments — which some consider its main public service. In one case, a dispute between a pair of brothers and another man escalated until the third man was shot. Without evidence, the Taliban chose one of the brothers, 22-year-old Mahadi, as the guilty party, villagers said. The Taliban assembled dozens of people, handed the wife of the victim a Kalashnikov and ordered her to shoot him, which she did.

The report goes on to note that US forces battled with the Taliban in the village on Aug. 5, but withdrew after three days “to prevent civilian property damage and loss of life and civilian disruption during the holy month of Ramadan.” The Taliban still control the town.

Afghan officials claim that the Taliban have adjusted their strategy and have shifted forces to the north as ISAF and Afghan forces are focused on the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. This was denied by a US official who spoke to the WaPo, but evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

Faryab borders Badghis province, which has slowly slipped out of ISAF control over the past several years. (See Matt Dupee’s report on Badghis from December 2007, published at LWJ. In that report, Matt notes: “The resurgent insurgency that exploded across southern Afghanistan in 2005 has slowly spread further west, and by early 2007, spilt over into northwestern Badghis and Faryab provinces with a vengeance.”)

Badghis and Faryab are havens for Central Asian jihadist groups such as the Turkistan Islamic Party, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and its splinter group, the Islamic Jihad Union (or Islamic Jihad Group). These groups are al Qaeda affiliates in Asia (the heads of the TIP, IMU, and IJU are members of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis or are close confidants of Osama bin Laden). In January 2010, the US killed 15 members of the Turkistan Islamic Party in an airstrike in Badghis.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Max says:

    This sounds strange, because the Afghans in the north are not Pashtun, and do not sympathize with the Taliban. It seems like an unlikely place for the Pashtun Taliban to set up shop and expect support from the populace.
    BTW, where are the Afghan militias that used to be in charge up there? They would have kicked the Taliban’s butt a long time ago.

  • Neo says:

    Max, there are plenty of Pashtoon areas in the north. It’s a patchwork. Many of the better agricultural areas are Pashtoon. Many areas underwent extensive “forced”

  • Max says:

    Thanks, I didn’t know that.

  • TMP says:

    This is a situation / point where the people of Astan need to stand up for themselves. Stop cowering in fear. They Taliban are bullies and run from a fight 99/100 times if confronted with force.
    30 or 40 people controling a village. This village could muster twice / three times (if not more) of fighting age men to confront these animals. There is a point (we are long past it) that the men of Astan must fight for themselves.


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