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Into Taliban Territory: The Information War

Nadir Shiek, chief of Tarbuz Guzar's local militia, has good informants.
Nadir Shiek, chief of Tarbuz Guzar's local militia, has good informants.
In early September, RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Muhammad Tahir went to the village of Tarbuz Guzar, Baghlan Province, in northern Afghanistan. The area is home to a local militia which has so far managed to hold off aggressive Taliban advances. Over the coming days and weeks, we will publish Muhammad's account of his trip into Taliban territory.

"This guy has just come from the other side -- he brought a message saying that the Taliban is planning another attack. This time they are aiming to sabotage the election in Tarbuz Guzar," said Nadir Sheikh, the commander of the village's local militia, pointing at a person in his 30s with whom he had just finished a long, private, and intense conversation.

The man, keeping his eyes down, shook hands with me hesitantly, none too pleased about what Nadir has just done by introducing him to me. I was told that he was one of Nadir's prominent informers in the district of Char Dara, which is currently under Taliban control.

The intelligence proved true. In a telephone conversation with Nadir upon my return to Kabul, he told me the Taliban launched an ultimately unsuccessful attack on Tarbuz Guzar on September 18 -- just days after I had left. In the absence of official government forces, the majority of Nadir's soldiers were on duty guarding election candidates and their residences.

In August, the Taliban killed the district chief of Qala-e Zal with a roadside bomb placed near to his office. Two weeks earlier, a bomb went off in a bazaar in the nearby village of Ak Depe, killing three civilians.

"These types of attacks cannot be orchestrated by someone outside of the village," said Khawaja Murad, a senior member of Nadir's militia.

Scratching his head, he continued, "We know who in the village may be helping them, but it's hard to act against them, because it could create an inter-clan dispute within the village."

Perhaps more worrisome, said the militiaman, is that the Taliban has sympathizers in Tarbuz Guzar who help to spread their message that Afghanistan is being conquered by foreign troops. He said one of the Taliban's most powerful propagandists is the village's own mullah, who runs a boarding-school madrasah next to the mosque.

Back in Kabul, a leading politician from Qala-e Zal who did not want to be named told me that if the militiamen "do not want to put the lives of their fellow villagers in danger, they may negotiate with the Taliban by sending their elders to them."

"But in this case, I am afraid the negotiations would be according to the Taliban's terms," he said, "which means that if the militiamen do not want to be killed, they will be forced to join the Taliban and attack the government in Konduz."

-- Muhammad Tahir