HENDU KALACHEH, AFGHANISTAN: “There are many Taliban here but I can’t help you because you come just once or twice. We’re not safe here,” Abdul Rahman tells US soldiers in a field as night falls.
The soldiers sit across from the 28-year-old Afghan villager squatting in his white robes and waistcoat, their conversation lit by a half-moon as Rahman echoes the common refrain of fear in this tiny village in southern Afghanistan.
His predicament underscores the challenge for thinly stretched foreign forces reliant upon on-the-ground intelligence as they battle an elusive enemy. Ordinary Afghans may want to help, but are terrified of Taliban reprisals. “There are many Taliban here. They pray in the mosque with us and at night they do their own patrols. They announce to the village that no one can come out after 9 pm,” he tells the men of 1st squadron, 71st cavalry regiment.
Hendu Kalacheh village borders a suspected supply route for insurgents entering Kandahar city to the north. The US lieutenant in charge decides the troops will return at night when they believe they are more likely to catch insurgents.
The soldiers arrive in armoured vehicles at sunset, leaping over thick mud walls and crossing fields of grape vines to reach the mountainside hamlet as farmers are returning home with barrows and donkeys carrying their wheat crops.
But the soldiers say the villagers know they will go home within a year and the Taliban will likely stay. As such the villagers calculate whether to share information with the coalition forces and most decide not to.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 28th, 2010.