Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Army Liberates Bamiyan

New national army chases warlords out of strife torn central province.
By Shoib Safi

Mohammad Sultan stood straight and tall at the Madar village checkpoint, watching for smugglers and weapons as residents came and went. Snow fell on his new national army uniform, but he didn't mind.


For many soldiers it would be tedious, boring work, but for this 28-year-old, it was an extraordinary and happy moment.


At last he was doing what he had been trained to do: serve his country by trying to bring about stability. "I will go to any place when ordered," he told IWPR proudly, "and will bring peace to the residents of our regions."


On February 24, the second battalion of 600 soldiers graduated from training by American forces and took control of Koh-e-Mard district in northern Bamiyan - chasing out the local warlords.


The people of Bamiyan province, one of the central provinces of Afghanistan and famous for its historic monuments, have been suffering at the hands of cruel local strongmen. Koh-e-Mard district is one of the very first unstable areas to come under the control of the central government, and represents one small step in the long battle to unite the country under the rule of law.


After the collapse of the Taleban, the local student militia commanders [such as Mullah Zoy, Habibullah Shamshad, Wais, Mullah Nassim, and Molavi-ul-Islam] took control of the area and fought each other, killing hundreds of people in Koh-e-Mard alone.


The national army's arrival with US special forces was greeted with joy by the local residents, who slaughtered sheep and calves for feasts in their honor. Young girls offered poems asking for books, pens and schools instead of fighting and guns. And their elders told the army soldiers, "You are our last hope to bring peace to us."


"Before and after the Taleban, the warlords were so cruel to us. They would do whatever they wanted to do," said Mohammad Murad, a Marad village resident. "Here it was usual for the commanders to attack each other's homes and villages and loot the area, and they even brutally raped most of the women. Now after the arrival of the national army along with the US forces, we feel safe."


In every part of the district, people encouraged and expressed their gratitude to the new soldiers, telling them, "We are with you. Leave every difficult situation for us, but do not leave here."


Dozens of residents voluntarily surrendered their weapons in the belief that they no longer needed them for self-protection.


Commander Malem Abdullah, who called himself the head of Koh-e-Mard district, was arrested by the US forces after hundreds of people filed complaints about his cruelty, and was reportedly taken to Bagram Air Base outside Kabul.


Imaduddin, another resident of Marad, recalled that young men had to hide in their homes to avoid being pressed into the service of the warlords. "They were made to go to a village and kill someone and loot his house ...In the evenings they would let them go home without giving them anything to eat."


Twenty-four-year-old Mir Ahmad said he couldn't recall a single good day during the rule of the local strongmen. "When their food supplies ran out, they would ask us for food. And if we couldn't, they would come round to our homes and take everything they liked, then imprison us for not obeying orders. They jailed me twice and looted my house.


"The day before the national army and US forces arrived, the warlords told us that they had ran out of fuel for fires and we had to give them some. But in the morning when we woke up we saw they had fled and the national army was everywhere."


The governor of Bamiyan province, Abdul Rahim Ali Yar, said Koh-e-Mard district " had unfortunately not been under our rule, but now there's peace in the district and weapons are being voluntarily surrendered - and the people want arms collection to continue."


Complaints to the central government about the ongoing clashes were unheeded, the governor said. Kabul had counseled patience while it trained a new professional army.


The governor now hopes that reconstruction can move forward, for the first time in more than two decades. In some parts of Bamiyan, there is only one health clinic for 80,000 people. Hunger, disease and the lack of education are common concerns.


Meanwhile, weapons collection carries on a pace. Colonel Aminullah Patyalay, the commander of the second battalion of the national army, told IWPR that the army had gathered around 380 arms of different kinds in the district so far. " They will be placed in depots under the supervision of the army and the American forces. If anybody refuses to hand over their guns, we will give them a tooth-breaking response."


Shoib Safi is an independent journalist in Kabul.