Military Supply Line Threatened By Taliban
By Associated Press
September 26, 2009
POL-I-KUMRI, Afghanistan — Growing Taliban influence in northern Afghanistan is threatening a new military supply line painstakingly negotiated by the U.S., as rising violence takes hold on the one-time Silk Road route.
The north has deteriorated over just a few months, showing how quickly Taliban influence is spreading in a once peaceful area. Local officials say the Taliban are establishing a shadow government along the dilapidated road that ultimately could prevent vital supplies carried in hundreds of trucks every week from reaching the military. It also raises the danger that the supplies could end up in militant hands as fodder for suicide attacks.
People in Baghlan and Kunduz provinces complain that international forces, the government in Kabul and aid have passed them by in favor of more troublesome regions. Militants are taking advantage of that resentment, and control by either Afghan or international forces is slipping.
"For the past two to three years, it's deteriorated day by day," said Ahmad Jawid, 43, a car dealer who sat in the shade with a half-dozen friends watching the highway in Baghlan's provincial capital, Pol-i-Kumri. "The people are demoralized."
A young man in the group had an easy smile but spoke bitterly on Wednesday when asked about the Taliban.
"I'm engaged and I can't go to the village of my fiancee," said 23-year-old Farshad, who like many Afghans goes by only one name. The village fell to the Taliban before the wedding could be planned. "I'm going to wait for the situation to get worse or get better. Otherwise I'll have to become a Talib."
Just to the north, Kunduz province is home to the first leg of the highway. The full northern route, which starts in Europe and snakes through Central Asia to Afghanistan, was cobbled together by the U.S. earlier this year after Taliban violence repeatedly disrupted the two main Pakistani routes.
Local officials and analysts say the militants want to show they can control the north and take over the supplies. Taliban militants hijacked two fuel trucks on the highway on Sept. 4, and German forces in Kunduz called in an airstrike by U.S. fighter pilots, saying they feared the trucks could be used in suicide bombings. Thirty civilians and 69 armed Taliban died in the strike, according to a probe by an Afghan presidential commission.
"The mere fact that the trucks were hijacked, the mere fact that we had this level of challenge to the government's control and sovereignty to me shows we need an effort here," U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said in a recent news conference.
Kunduz was among the last Taliban strongholds during the 2001 U.S. invasion that drove the Islamic government from power, and — until this year — had been relatively peaceful, despite a largely Pashtun population sympathetic to the militants. That began to change after the Taliban solidified control in the south as U.S. supply lines from Pakistan came under increasing attack.