Magazine article The Progressive

Uprooting an Afghan Village

Magazine article The Progressive

Uprooting an Afghan Village

Article excerpt


There are times in a village's life when it must buckle down, to bear a blistering drought or withstand a fatal famine. There are times when a village morphs, swallowing newcomers or losing residents to the city lights. And then, there are even times when a whole village decides to pack up and leave.

This is what happened to the Afghan village of Garloch. To find out why, you'd have to travel deep into the Pashtun countryside, through the sweeping, verdant valleys of the eastern province of Laghman. You'd have to climb the craggy, unpaved road of a shallow hillside. You'd then need to find your way to a makeshift camp, built from tarpaulin and sienna-colored mud, and find a certain one-eyed village malek, or chief, called Hazrat.

"Many of my tribesman have decided to leave Afghanistan," the malek tells me, as we sit in a room with bare cement walls. Dozens of tribal elders from Garloch, turbaned and wrinkled, are gathered here, and nod in agreement.

Several months ago, in the early dawn hours, as villagers were stirring from sleep and starting their morning prayers, American choppers descended on them. Hundreds of soldiers cordoned the village and began a house-to-house search. The Americans threw grenades at the gates of some homes, the malek tells me, and smashed the locks of doors. They tied some villagers' hands behind their backs and dragged them across the ground. They shouted, "Don't move or we'll kill your" The whole operation took some six hours. After finishing, they sped away on those choppers.

The Americans claim there were gunshots as they left. The villagers deny it. Regardless, American bombers swooped by the village just after the soldiers left and dropped payload on one house. It belonged to Hajji Qadir, a pole-thin, wizened old man who was hosting more than forty relatives for a wedding party. The bomb split the house in two, killing sixteen, including twelve from Qadir's family, and wounding scores more. He shows me the mementos of that day: a chalky-white shard of concrete, a mangled sliver of metal, a smiling toddler, his eyes daubed with kohl, his foot missing. The malek went to the province's governor and delivered a stern warning: protect our villagers or we will turn against the Americans.

Many across the Pashtun hinterlands already have, and this might be President Obama's biggest challenge as he sends tens of thousands more troops to this embattled nation. Frequent civilian casualties and house raids have incensed the rural Pashtuns.

"Everybody knows that more troops mean more targets" and "less troops mean less civilian casualties," says Muhammad Janan, a government official in Wardak province.

Civilian casualties jumped by almost 40 percent in 2008, according to the United Nations, and Western and allied Afghan forces were responsible for nearly half of them.

"The Americans are acting like the Russians," says Kako Jan, a farmer from Kandahar province. "They are bombing villages and killing innocents."

Anwal Khan, a tribal leader from Logar province, warns that "if Obama sends more troops, we will have no choice but to stage protests."

And protests are indeed becoming commonplace. Consider one typical four-week stretch in early spring. Two thousand angry protesters blocked the main highway in Logar province, firing their weapons in the air, in protest of an American night raid. A week later, in southern Ghazni province, nearly 500 demonstrated against an alleged raid by NATO troops from Poland that damaged a mosque. The following week, villagers blocked the path of an American military convoy in the eastern province of Khost, hurling stones and chanting "Death to America" to protest a raid that locals claim killed civilians. In the fourth week, hundreds of protesters hurled stones and some fired at American troops in Logar province.

Not all Afghans are opposed to a buildup, however. In the serene northern provinces, where the Taliban are few and the troops even fewer, the locals favor more boots on the ground--in the south. …

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