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US struggles with Afghan tribal rivalries

Six weeks ago, elders of the Shinwari tribe, which dominates a large area in southeastern Afghanistan, pledged that they would set aside internal differences to focus on fighting the Taliban.

world Updated: Mar 12, 2010 23:29 IST

Six weeks ago, elders of the Shinwari tribe, which dominates a large area in southeastern Afghanistan, pledged that they would set aside internal differences to focus on fighting the Taliban.

This week, that commitment seemed to dissolve as two subtribes took up arms to fight each other over an ancient land dispute, leaving at least 13 people dead, according to local officials.

The fighting was a setback for US military officials. It raised questions about how effectively the US military could use tribes as part of its counterinsurgency strategy, given the patchwork of rivalries that make up Afghanistan.

Government officials and elders from other tribes were trying to get the two sides to reconcile, but given the intensity of the fighting, some said they doubted that the effort would work. At the very least, the dispute is proving a distraction from the tribe’s commitment to fight the Taliban.

In return for the tribe’s pledge, the Americans had offered cash-for-work programs to employ large numbers of young people from the tribe as well as small-scale development projects, according to Major T.J. Taylor, a public affairs officer. Questions for Shinwari tribal elders this week about whether the pact against the Taliban still stood went unanswered as the elders turned the conversation to their intratribal struggle.

The disputed area covers about 22,000 acres near the Pakistani border and about 20 miles from Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province.