US and Afghan officials try to persuade some of the 350 tribal
leaders in Afghanistan to cooperate against the Taliban. It's not an
US officials put a lot of hope last year in Haji Rashid, an up-
and-coming community leader in the Zormat district of Afghanistan's
Paktia province. They considered Rashid a unifying figure who was
capable of bringing together about a dozen tribes in the area to
work in support of the American-backed Afghan government.
Their hopes collapsed, however, when Rashid was kidnapped,
tortured, mutilated and murdered and his groundwork to broker the
support of the tribes in Zormat quickly foundered.
Military officials aren't sure who killed Rashid, but their
suspicions point to the Taliban. "It's to their benefit to have
instability," said Lt. Col. Matthew Smith, a Georgia Army National
Guard officer and the commander of about 1,000 U.S. troops in Paktia
Rashid's murder illustrates one of the obstacles that American
officials and military commanders face as they try to persuade
tribal leaders to cooperate with U.S. troops and with one another
against the Taliban. Afghanistan's historically weak central
governments have shared power with the country's five so-called
"super tribes" and the tribes that compose them, with 350 or so sub-
tribes and with local clans, and most of the country's would-be
conquerors -- including the British and the Soviets -- have employed
their own tribal strategies.
Now American officials are attending tribal meetings, staying in
close touch with tribal leaders and trying to determine which
leaders are friendly and which aren't.
In Zormat, U.S. and Afghan officials have turned to tribal
leaders as a channel of communication with several small Taliban
networks in the region, networks they think could be persuaded to
join a peaceful political process. American commanders declined to
identify the Taliban commanders with whom they've been
Navigating tribal rivalries
Those efforts, however, risk feeding traditional tribal
rivalries, to the detriment of any plan to undercut the Taliban.
"If you are seen as favoring one tribe over another, you are seen
as an enemy to them," said 1st Sgt. Troy Arrowsmith of Odgen, Utah,
the top enlisted soldier on the Paktia Provisional Reconstruction
Team, a cooperative of about 100 troops and civilians from multiple
Unhappy tribes don't have to look far to find outside support.
"In Zormat, the tribes are fractured, and the Taliban are a part
of those tribes," Arrowsmith said. "They live with them. They have
American commanders in Paktia keep maps of the province, closely
demarcating the tribal areas.
Rivalries among tribes, sub-tribes and families aren't confined
In Paktia's northeast, there's a long-standing animus between the
Turi, a Shiite Muslim tribe that extends into Pakistan, and the
Bushara, a Sunni Muslim tribe. …