Violence Drains Hope From Afghans In Kandahar

Paramedics and Afghan civilians carry a coffin containing the body of one of five people. i i

Paramedics and Afghan civilians carry a coffin containing the body of one of five people killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar in mid-April. Fear has gripped the southern city of Kandahar ahead of NATO's upcoming offensive. Allauddin Khan/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Allauddin Khan/AP
Paramedics and Afghan civilians carry a coffin containing the body of one of five people.

Paramedics and Afghan civilians carry a coffin containing the body of one of five people killed by a roadside bomb in Kandahar in mid-April. Fear has gripped the southern city of Kandahar ahead of NATO's upcoming offensive.

Allauddin Khan/AP

Many months ago, the U.S. military announced it would drive the Taliban out of Kandahar, southern Afghanistan's most important province. Exactly how it plans to do so remains unclear.

The Taliban's response has been far less ambiguous.

Militants have assassinated dozens of influential people in the province in recent weeks as a warning to Afghans not to work with their government or coalition forces. The Taliban has also stepped up attacks on foreign companies and aid agencies, grinding most of Kandahar's development to a halt.

The escalating violence has paralyzed the provincial capital.

Stepping outdoors in Kandahar city these days is tantamount to gambling with your life. Almost daily, people are assassinated or blown up here.

'I Do Not Have Much Hope Now'

Earlier this month, a tribal elder was fatally shot while shopping in a local market area, where vendors reassemble and sell used radios, shear sheep and hawk cooking oil.

Vendor Haji Abdul Baki recalls how frightened shoppers ran past his store after the shooting. He estimates that the Taliban killed 10 people in this area alone in the past month despite the prevalence of Afghan police checkpoints designed to thwart attackers.

Being indoors isn't always safe, either. Last month, gunmen fatally shot the deputy mayor, Azizullah Yarmal, as he prayed in a mosque down the street from his home.

His eldest son, Samiuallah Yarmal, says things are so bad that he doesn't dare to go anywhere alone.

"I had hope two years back," he says. "I do not have much hope now."

Nor does Rangina Hamidi, an Afghan-American who runs an embroidery business employing Kandahari women. Being the daughter of Kandahar's mayor makes her a target; so does running a business, as the Taliban believes women belong in the home.

Hamidi says she now lives under self-imposed house arrest at her office.

"I'm constantly worried — along with all the women who are working — about the next minute, the next hour, the next day," she says. "Whether one of us will be killed or one of us will be threatened ... it affects the amount of work and the quality of work we are producing."

U.S. Military Plans Stoke More Fear

Fear is growing in Kandahar as U.S. troops arrive for widely anticipated military operations in the province this summer. Many residents, officials and analysts say the American decision to announce an offensive ahead of time has made this city already infamous for its violence that much more dangerous.

The anxiety is higher because the Afghan government and the Americans have been vague about what their plans are and how civilians will be affected.

"So right now we just don't know what to expect, there is no clear information," Rangina Hamidi says. "I have the option to leave, but the majority of people who don't have the option to leave — they'll basically be stuck, and their only option is to wait and see."

Ahmad Wali Karzai, who heads the provincial council here and is the Afghan president's half-brother, says Taliban fighters are using the lead time to prepare for the fight.

"They use every second to their own benefit, to terrorize the community, to kill more elders, to kill more government officials, to carry out big attacks, like big suicide attacks that can draw major attention," he says.

He adds that the military operation must happen soon for the terror to stop.

But other Kandahar residents are more wary of relying on foreign troops to restore security. Their memories of previous Western military actions in the region involve bombs being dropped on homes and innocent civilians being killed, injured or rendered homeless.

They complain that Western troops end up leaving not long after clearing an area, leaving the Taliban free to return and terrorize residents.

A 50-Year War?

In Kabul, U.S. Army Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for the international coalition, says he understands the frustration — and the need to stop Taliban assassinations.

The goal in Kandahar, he says, is to create a permanent security presence in strategic population areas, although it will be an Afghan one as Western troops are going home someday.

"In the longer term, the slow spreading of security throughout the region is what's really going to make a difference there," Shanks says. "It's not going to be one day or another, or it's not going to be taking one guy off the battlefield. You have to develop a presence there that stays there that knows the people that are going to be supportive of the people and their government."

In Kandahar, a Taliban commander who called himself Mullawi Mohammadi scoffs at the U.S. plans.

He says Western troops may outgun the Taliban and have short-term success in securing parts of Kandahar as they have many times before. But, he adds, the Taliban will be back, even if it takes weeks or months.

The Taliban will continue fighting for the next half-century, he predicts, until Islamic law returns to Afghanistan.

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