For most of the past eight years, this northern province has been relatively peaceful, far removed from the insurgency in the Taliban heartlands of Kandahar and Helmand in the south.
But the past year has brought such a dramatic Taliban comeback in Kunduz that General Stanley McChrystal, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is planning to shift some of the ongoing troop reinforcements to the north of the country, the first significant American deployment to the region since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, US officials say.
US officials said insurgents, under increased pressure from international forces in the south, are seeking to compensate by stepping up operations in the north in a bid to force US forces to spread out and thus dilute their effectiveness.
There, girls’ schools have been closed down, women are largely prohibited from venturing outdoors unless they are covered from head to toe, and residents are forced to pay a religious “tax.”
“The Afghan government is the lawful government,” said Abdul Wahed Omarkhiel, the government head of one district, Chardara, which lies four miles from the provincial capital, Kunduz city. “But the Taliban’s law is the gun.”
Warning that their district is too dangerous for a foreigner to venture into, Omarkhiel and other council members and tribal elders travelled to Kunduz city to meet with a Washington Post reporter.
They said disillusionment with the Afghan government, widely seen as incompetent and corrupt, and the slow pace of reconstruction had helped create favourable conditions for a Taliban resurgence.
“When people have problems, they don’t go to the government. They don’t go to the police,” said Moeen Marastial, a member of parliament. “They go to the Taliban, and the Taliban decides. There are no files and no paperwork.”
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