BBC News & Carlotta Gall & David E. Sanger / The New York Times – 2007-05-14 01:00:20
Afghan Taleban Commander Killed
(May 13, 2007) — The Taleban’s top military commander in Afghanistan, Mullah Dadullah, has been killed in fighting in the south. His body was shown to reporters in Kandahar, and Taleban sources confirmed the death, after initial denials.
NATO said Dadullah died in a clash with Afghan and Western forces in Helmand province.
Mullah Dadullah “will most certainly be replaced in time but the insurgency has received a serious blow” the Nato-led security assistance force (Isaf) said.
Isaf and Afghan troops have been engaged in a major operation in Helmand province since early March. But the Taleban commander was killed in an operation by the separate US-led coalition supported by Isaf, news agency AFP said.
Mullah Dadullah’s name has been linked with the beheading of suspected spies, controlling the guerrilla war in Helmand Province, dispatching suicide bombers and the kidnapping of Westerners, including an Italian journalist and two French aid workers, both of whom have since been released.
Mullah Dadullah recently told the BBC that he had hundreds of suicide bombers awaiting his orders to launch an offensive against foreign troops. The BBC’s Afghanistan correspondent, Alastair Leithead, says the commander has produced videos showing beheadings of foreign hostages. Previous reports of his death or capture had proved untrue, but officials displayed the body to confirm the killing.
For many years Mullah Dadullah has been known to be one of the most brutal and extreme Taleban leaders. In the last 12 months he has become perhaps the most significant military commander in Afghanistan, certainly in the south where the close quarters fighting has been most intense, our correspondent says.
But it is difficult to assess the impact of his death on the insurgency, our correspondent says, because the Taleban’s command structures are loose and fighters often operate in small, self-contained units.
Residents of the city of Herat, in western Afghanistan told the BBC commander’s death was significant.
One man, Rahib Mohtasadzadagh, said: “I think the murder of Mr Dadullah, the commander of the Taleban, has lots of effects on the Taleban troops. “But I think another person will replace him, so in the future they will organise another person for that.”
Faisal Karimi told the BBC that the killing would have a “very positive effect on security in the country”. “He was the ruler of the Taleban, and it will affect the Taleban influence in the south, for sure. The Taleban will face defeat, and their attacks in the south will decrease.”
Mullah Dadullah was a member of the Taleban’s 10-man leadership council before the US-led invasion in 2001. He has been called “Afghanistan’s top Taleban commander” by Nato officials, and was high on the US list of most-wanted people in the country.
Mullah Dadullah lost one of his legs fighting in Kabul in 1996 and has since used an artificial limb. He had the reputation of a fearless man. Despite his disability, he fought and led major battles for the Taleban against the rival Northern Alliance forces during the 1990s.
He was one of the first Taleban commanders to organise attacks against US-led coalition forces after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. And he was the first Taleban commander to give interviews to print and electronic media after the fall of the regime.
Unlike other Taleban leaders who never allowed themselves to be photographed for religious and security reasons, Mullah Dadullah did just the opposite, correspondents say.
© BBC MMVII
“The Americans Went After One Guerrilla Commander
And Created A Hundred More”
After Burying The Dead, The Tribe’s Elders Met
And Resolved To Fight American Forces If They Returned:
“We Will Stand Against Them, And
We Will Raise The Whole Area Against Them”
Carlotta Gall & David E. Sanger / The New York Times
ZERKOH, Afghanistan (May 13, 2007) — Scores of civilian deaths over the past months from heavy American and allied reliance on airstrikes to battle Taliban insurgents are threatening popular support for the Afghan government and creating severe strains within the NATO alliance.
The anger is visible here in this farming village in the largely peaceful western province of Herat, where American airstrikes left 57 villagers dead, nearly half of them women and children, on April 27 and 29.
Even the accounts of villagers bore little resemblance to those of NATO and American officials — and suggested just how badly things could go astray in an unfamiliar land where cultural misunderstandings quickly turn violent.
The United States military says it came under heavy fire from insurgents as it searched for a local tribal commander and weapons caches and called in airstrikes, killing 136 Taliban fighters.
But the villagers denied that any Taliban were in the area. Instead, they said, they rose up and fought the Americans themselves, after the soldiers raided several houses, arrested two men and shot dead two old men on a village road.
After burying the dead, the tribe’s elders met with their chief, Hajji Arbab Daulat Khan, and resolved to fight American forces if they returned.
“If they come again, we will stand against them, and we will raise the whole area against them,” he warned.
Or in the words of one foreign official in Afghanistan, the Americans went after one guerrilla commander and created a hundred more.
On Tuesday, barely 24 hours after American officials apologized publicly to President Karzai for a previous incident in which 19 civilians were shot by marines in eastern Afghanistan, reports surfaced of at least 21 civilians killed in an airstrike in Helmand Province, though residents reached by phone said the toll could be as high as 80.
While NATO is now in overall command of the military operations in the country, many of the most serious episodes of civilian deaths have involved United States counterterrorism and Special Operations forces that operate separately from the NATO command.
The subject of civilian casualties was the source of intense discussion on Wednesday in Brussels when the NATO secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, met with the North Atlantic Council, the top representatives of the coalition.
But the conversation was less about how to reduce casualties, according to participants, than about how to explain them to European governments, who say their troops are there for reconstruction, not hunting the Taliban or terrorists.
Since the beginning of March at least 132 civilians have been killed in at least six bombings or shootings, according to officials. The actual number of civilians killed is probably higher, since the areas of heaviest fighting, like the southern province of Helmand, are too unsafe for travel and many deaths go unreported and cannot be verified.
“You have a bag of capital — that is the good will of the people — and you want to spend that as slow as you could,” said the American military official. “We are spending it at a fearsome rate.”
The episode here in this valley in Shindand district in late April showed just how changeable the attitudes toward foreign troops can be.
The ethnic Pashtuns who live in the Zerkoh Valley are from a fiercely independent tribe, surrounded by local enemies, and with a record of fighting all comers. Still, NATO and United States soldiers were a common — even friendly — sight in this valley in western Afghanistan. They came and talked to the tribal leaders, built schools and culverts, and had plans for a new bridge.
In interviews, villagers, who had cooperated with NATO before, blamed local rivals for planting false information with the Americans, to encourage the Americans to attack Zerkoh.
After the Special Forces units started raiding homes, the villagers were so angered, they said, they fought the Americans themselves. They insisted that no Taliban were here, an area that has been mostly calm.
“NATO was coming regularly, and the Afghan Army and police, and we were cooperating with them,” said Muhammad Alef, 35, a farmer who was tending to his wounded cousin in the provincial hospital in the city of Herat.
“But when the Americans came without permission, and they came more than once and disturbed the people,” he said. “They searched the houses, and the second time they arrested people, and the third time the people got angry and fought them.”
The American forces searched the tribal chief’s house and arrested two of his staff members, the villagers said. One, a watchman named only Bahadullah, 45, said he had been handcuffed, covered with a hood and taken to the nearby American base at Shindand.
He said he had been strung up by his feet for what seemed like an hour and a half as American soldiers swung him about. When he was let down the soldiers kicked and beat him, he said. In an interview this week, he said he was still passing blood and in pain from the beatings.
A senior American military official who has looked at what happened in Zerkoh said that some compounds were bombed but added that the troops were receiving fire from them. But a villager, Abdul Waheed, said the Americans had searched his family compound and found no weapons and certainly must have seen the women and children.
Two days later they bombed the compound, killing six children, he said.
“The Americans should leave Afghanistan because this is my own home,” he said. “I am sitting here and they come and just order a bomb to drop.”
Villagers said the first fighting broke out on April 27, as they had gathered at the bazaar in the central village of Parmakan. Two old men, Adel Shah, 80, who was walking home with some meat and sugar for his family, and Sarwar, 80, who was harvesting poppies, were shot dead by the Americans, said Abdul Zaher, Mr. Shah’s son.
That night, the first airstrikes were carried out, mainly on Bakhtabad, the village at the entrance to the valley, residents said.
On April 29, the Americans returned, positioning their armored vehicles outside Parmakan.
Villagers said they thought the Americans were going to raid houses again, and the men gathered to fight. Husi, 35, lives in a house near the school and on the edge of the village. She was alone with her 10 children, and when the shooting started they cowered at the entrance of their walled home, she said.
Then suddenly a plane bombed the five-room house. “When they bombed I just ran,” she recalled as she held her 1-year-old boy. Women and children were pouring out of the village to the river to cross it to safety, she said.
In the panic as they fled, Husi was separated from three of her children, Amina, 8, Tote, 5, and Fazli, 3, who are still missing.
“We ran with bare feet, we left our shoes,” said Sara, a relative and the mother of seven, whose house was also bombed. “I was running and they were shooting at us from the plane,” she said.
Two uncles and two cousins were killed when the house was bombed, she said. “We have nothing, it’s all finished,” she said.
The river was chest-high at the time, and a number of women and children were swept away. Fifty-seven people died over all, including 17 children under 10, 10 women and 14 old men, Hajji Daulat Khan said. Eight people are still missing, including a 21-year-old man, and Husi’s three children.
The bombing of the village so outraged people that they continued fighting the Americans even after the airstrikes.
American and Afghan military officials admitted that they had been surprised at the ferocity of the response, and said that at one point American soldiers had been forced to call in the Afghan Army.
“We are not saying that the foreigners should leave or stay, we are just saying they should not do this,” said a farmer, Fateh Muhammad, 55, gesturing with his scythe at an enormous bomb crater and his neighbor’s collapsed house. He showed the place where two of his neighbors had been killed in a field nearby.
The airstrikes damaged about 100 homes and a new school built by Italian troops.
“This is a big mistake the Americans are making,” said Nasrullah Khan, a younger brother of the tribal chief, Hajji Daulat Khan. “If the Americans are here for peace, this is not the way.”
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