AB BAND, Afghanistan – Fed up with the Taliban closing their schools and committing other acts of oppression, men in a village about 100 miles south of Kabul took up arms late last spring and chased out the insurgents with no help from the Afghan government or U.S. military.
Small-scale revolts in recent months like the one in Kunsaf, mostly along a stretch of desert south of the Afghan capital, indicate bits of a grass-roots, do-it-yourself anti-insurgency that the U.S. hopes Afghan authorities can transform into a wider movement. Perhaps it can undercut the Taliban in areas they still dominate after 11 years of war with the United States and NATO allies.
The effort in Ghazni Province looks like a long shot. The villagers don’t readily embrace any outside authority, be it the Taliban, the U.S. or the Afghan government.
American officials nonetheless are quietly nurturing the trend, hoping it might become a game changer, or at least a new roadblock for the Taliban. At the same time, they are adamant that if anyone can convince the villagers to side with the Afghan government, it’s the Afghans – not the Americans.
If we went out there and talked to them, we would taint these groups and it would backfire, said Army Brig. Gen. John Charlton, the senior American adviser to the Afghan military in provinces along the southern approaches to Kabul.
Charlton, who witnessed similar stirrings in Iraq while serving as a commander there in 2007, said that in some cases the Taliban are fighting back fiercely, killing leaders of the armed uprisings.
Charlton said the U.S. and its coalition partners are taking a behind-the-scenes role – encouraging the Afghans to court the villagers while finding a role for U.S. Special Forces soldiers to forge the villagers into a fighting force as members of the Kabul-sanctioned Afghan Local Police.
Some have compared the apparently spontaneous uprisings to the Iraq war’s Anbar Awakening of 2007, in which Sunni Arab tribes in the western province of Anbar turned on al-Qaida in their midst, joined forces with the Americans and dealt a blow that many credit with turning the tide of that conflict.