'Everyone is against us': US troops meet broader resistance in Afghanistan

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Sep 29 20:16:36 MDT 2003

If someone told you that the 'Vietnam syndrome' is dead, you might
want to show them this article.  Note the hints about troop attitudes,
including toward combat.
Fred Feldman


US troops face war zone in southeast Afghanistan Herve Bar

URGUN, Afghanistan, Sept 21 (AFP) - A Kalashnikov assault rifle slung
across his shoulder and sporting a long black beard, Mohammad Jan
puffs out his chest to display a blue decoration: a rifle surrounded
by two gold palms.

The former anti-Soviet mujahedin ("holy warrior") shows off a plastic
card, signed by "Major Dave," certifying that he fought alongside US
troops in a combat operation last July.

Jan is a member of the Afghan militia forces (AMF), which are helping
US forces hunt and kill Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. He and his
comrades-in-arms are attached to the US military base at Urgun, 180
kilometres (110 miles) south of Kabul.

The bravado is needed. They are facing a war zone.

"Here, this is war," said a flak jacket-attired US sergeant guarding
the Urgun base.

"Don't go any closer to the Pakistani border or the Taliban will kill

Just 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of here lies Barmal, one of five
frontier districts now under the control of the Taliban, according to
local security commanders.

The hardline militia is in the throes of an apparent resurgence, which
Afghan officials say is being plotted from Pakistan's tribal border

An upswing in violence, targetting aid workers, troops and officials,
is driving humanitarian workers away, undermining rebuilding and
development and destroying Afghanistan's chances of recovering from 23
years of war.

The resurgence is concentrated in Afghanistan's southeast border

On both sides of the porous frontier live religiously conservative
Pashtun tribes, who share the Taliban's ethnicity and resentment of
the US military presence.

The Pashtuns, the largest of Afghanistan's ethnic groups, are also
furious at their perceived sidelining by the minority Tajik-dominated
post-Taliban administration.

The US sergeant attested claims that it is not just former Taliban
fighters who object the US presence and the Afghan government.

"It's crazy here. It's not only the Taliban and al-Qaeda, everyone is
against us," he said, clutching his automatic rifle and pointing at
the mountains where anti-government militants have found support from
the Pashtun tribes.

The Urgun base, made of sandbags and barbed wire, lies on an arid
plain in southeast Afghanistan's Paktika province.

Around 20 AMF militiamen have been killed in the past three months in
clashes with suspected Taliban in the frontier area.

Taliban fighters and their al-Qaeda allies have occupied Barmal, which
lies only 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from the border, for the past

The area is now inaccessible to government forces, which have
withdrawn to Urgun.

"It is extremely dangerous to venture nearby," said an Afghan police

"We don't go there anymore because of ambushes and unofficial
checkpoints the Taliban have set up along the roads," he said,
reluctant to reveal his name.

Fearing for his life, the policeman removed his uniform when he was
ordered to patrol near the area, he confided.

Ahmadzai, a former translator for the US military, said the Taliban
were better organised and equipped than their US hunters.

"The Taliban are significantly reinforced. They are better equipped,
better organised; their spies are everywhere, even in the Urgun
bazaar," he said.

Ahmadzai quit his position with the US soldiers because he preferred
to resign rather than "be killed."

Only US troops, with AMF guides, brave the frontier in convoys of
armoured cars.

Their presence has cost them lives: two American soldiers were killed
on August 31 in a gunbattle with militants near the US base at Shkin,
50 kilometres (30 miles) south of here and 10 kilometers (6.2 miles)
from Barmal.

In the mountainous and rocky terrain, ideal for guerrillas, "their
ambushes are becoming more and more bold," said Jalil Khan, a local
resident who was shot in the chest two months ago.

"They wait for the (coalition) protection helicopters to leave before
attacking the convoys."

The head of the AMF in Urgun said he was baffled watching US troops in

"We don't understand their tactics," he said, while praising their
precision bombing.

"Despite all their means, they immediately break contact when they
make contact with the enemy. Instead, they shouldn't let them go but
hunt them like rabbits."

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