Afghan Militias Take On Taliban

Locals' Fears

In Kunduz, the regional intelligence chief is kneeling in front of a giant map, so detailed that it includes even the tiniest streams and villages. General Mohammed Daud Ibrahimi, 43, is a powerful-looking man with bristly hair and darting eyes. He runs his fingers across the map and points to where the Taliban insurgents are located: in the center, in Gor Tapa, farther to the south, in Aliabad, and in the "cleared areas" to the northeast. The Afghan intelligence service, NDS, has become something of a coordinating office for militias in the north.

Today, when hundreds of armed men lie on the lookout in the troubled surrounding areas and report unusual activity to NDS headquarters in Kunduz, it is partly General Daud's achievement. "In places where they weren't active yet, I convinced residents at the end of last year, village by village. I provide the ammunition, and I say: Fight against the Taliban yourselves. That's how I made Kunduz safer again."

But there is still a clear discrepancy between the words of Afghan security officials who claim, after every operation, that the region in question is free of terrorists, and the fears of the local population. It senses that the Taliban has only withdrawn and could possibly return in greater force, even after the arrest of the key Taliban commander in Kunduz, Mullah Salam, in Pakistan a few weeks ago.

Militias have taken control of the northern part of the country once before. At the time, they also promised to protect the population and, at the time, the real issues revolved around who had power and influence in Kunduz, and who was collecting road tolls and fees from drug shipments. That was in the early 1990s, after the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

The Return of the Good Old Days

The Western coalition's new friends are the same militia leaders from those days, minor commanders like Abdul Gafar from Kanam-i-Kalan, who celebrated his first victories during the Soviet invasion and loves fighting more than peace. They also include men like Mir Alam, a notorious warlord.

Alam is sitting in his living room, patting his two-year-old daughter on the back and smiling. The veteran fighter is one of the most feared men in Kunduz. He was once one of the commanders serving under Ahmed Shah Massoud, the great strategist of the Northern Alliance which fought the Taliban. He also supported former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, whose marauding troops crisscrossed the country, stealing, kidnapping and raping. Many Kunduz residents remember this period as the worst years of their lives. And now they are expected to see the same men as their new protectors?

After the campaign conducted by the Americans and their allies, Mir Alam was deprived of power for a time. US soldiers searched his house for drugs and weapons, and German Bundeswehr commanders avoided all official contact. Mir Alam surrendered 2,000 weapons but, according to residents, he kept 3,000 more hidden away.

Then, a few months ago, intelligence chief General Daud personally reactivated the veteran fighter. The two men are bound together by close family ties -- the general's sister is married to Mir Alam. The old and new militia chief was General Daud's best choice for organizing the militias' defensive campaign in the region last year. Mir Alam is also in close contact with the US armed forces, and he has even been mentioned as the future chief of police in Kunduz.

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