Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ousted tribal leaders poised to take over after Nato offensive

Times Online

A “government-in-waiting” is poised to seize control in Marjah once thousands of Afghan and international soldiers force the Taleban from their central Helmand stronghold.

Tribal elders who were forced to flee by the insurgents are on standby in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, for what Nato commanders have warned will be the most difficult part of their operation.

More than 15,000 American, Afghan and British soldiers are making their final manoeuvres before Operation Moshtarak. Their mission is to reclaim a symbolic patch of farmland — about 12 miles (19km) from the British headquarters — where the Taleban govern more than 80,000 people.

Nato’s long-term counter-insurgency strategy, however, relies on creating an Afghan administration that is preferable to the insurgents’ rule — and that is up to the elders to deliver.Gulab Mangal, the Governor of Helmand, is due to hold a shura — council — with Marjah’s community leaders today to discuss why the troops will invade and what they hope to do afterwards.

“They want to discuss their plans for after the operation,” said Haji Sar Mualem Sahib, the deputy head of the exiled Marjah council. The leader was forced to flee last year after two councilmen were murdered.

“We were five people in our council, but the Taleban arrested me and two others, who they killed. They wanted to kill me, but the people protested and they let me free,” he said. “After that I came to live in Lashkar Gah, but I’m ready to go back.”

The insurgents are adept at exploiting disputes and decapitating traditional governance structures to entrench their control. Re-establishing government, or at least community control, will be the key to a Nato victory. “Taking Marjah’s not the hard part,” said an Afghan analyst in Kabul. “Nato say there’s a few hundred Taleban there and there are 15,000 troops. The hard part’s going to be what happens afterwards.”

The Taleban have vowed to stay and fight. Residents who fled before the impending battle said that insurgents had been laying improvised explosive devices.

Daoud Ahmadi, the spokesman for the governor, said that about 300 families, roughly 1,800 people, had left Marjah. He said that 60 were in an emergency shelter in a half-built school in Lashkar Gah, and the others were with relatives and friends.

The UN and International Committee of the Red Cross will provide tents, blankets and food if more refugees arrive, but US commanders will be keen for them to return to Marjah once the fighting is finished.

Military planners are to spend millions of dollars on quick reconstruction projects designed to win hearts and minds after the offensive — which senior officers warned would probably be very bloody.

Afghan officials have picked a tribal leader from the notorious hotspot of Musa Qala in northern Helmand to oversee the reconstruction efforts. Haji Zahir Khan, who friends say has a wife in Germany and a wife in Musa Qala, worked with the former Taleban commander Mullah Salaam, who swapped sides in 2007 before a British operation to retake the town.

Abdul Ahad Helmandwal, a tribal elder from Nad-e Ali, which includes Marjah, said that Mr Khan had lived in Germany and was an experienced administrator from his time as the deputy head of Musa Qala’s district council. Mr Khan could not be reached for comment.

1 comment:

  1. "worked with the former Taleban commander Mullah Salaam, who swapped sides in 2007 before a British operation to retake the town."... and will no doubt swap straight back again when it suits him.
    This is precisely why the war in Afghanistan is futile, none of them can be trusted.