Patrol: 12 days with the Taliban police unit in Kabul

KABUL, Afghanistan – A young Taliban fighter with handcuffs dangling from his fingers warily watches oncoming cars as he stands in front of a steel fence.

Friday prayers will soon begin at the shrine and mosque of Sakhi Shah-e Mardan, a sacred Shiite site in central Kabul that he guards.

There have been two bomb Shiite mosques in Afghanistan by the Islamic State in recent months, killing dozens, and this 18-year-old Taliban fighter, Mohammad Khalid Omer, hasn’t stood any chance.

He and his police unit of five other fighters, commonly referred to as the Sakhi unit after the temple they guard, represent the Taliban’s vanguard in their latest war after the group’s takeover. govern the country in August: They win the warBut they can ensure peace in a multi-ethnic country ravaged by more than 40 years of violence?

The New York Times journalists spent 12 days with the small Taliban unit this fall, accompanying them on patrols in their area, the 3rd Police District, and to their home in Wardak Province, an area. neighboring mountains.

The new government’s approach to policing is by far the best: Local Taliban units take on roles at checkpoints around the country, while in major cities, such as such Kabul, Taliban fighters are imported from the surrounding provinces.

Even with only half a dozen members, the Sakhi unit offers a general picture of the Taliban, both in terms of who their core fighters are and the biggest challenge facing them as rulers. Afghanistan’s New Rule: Once a predominantly rural insurgency, this movement is now forced to compete with the management and protection of the alien urban centers it has been suppressing for decades. century.

It’s no longer fighters like Mr. Omer sleeping under the stars, dodging air strikes and planning ambushes against foreign troops or the Western-backed Afghan government.

Instead, they are struggling with economic difficulties clutching their countrymen, with same threat from Islamic State attacks and with hoarseness, confusion, the winding streets and back alleys of Kabula city of about 4.5 million people that they are really unfamiliar with.

The Sakhi unit lives full-time next to the shrine in a small concrete room painted bright green with a single electric fireplace. Steel bunk beds line the walls. The only decoration is a single poster of the holy Kaaba in Mecca.

In Afghanistan, many Shiites belong to the Hazara minority; The Taliban, a Pashtun Sunni movement, severely persecuted the Hazara the last time they ruled the country. But the fantasy of a Talib unit actually guarding such a popular Shiite site is negated by the seriousness of these men in carrying out their duties.

“We don’t care what ethnic group we serve, our goal is to serve and provide security to the Afghans,” said Habib Rahman Inqayad, 25, unit leader and most experienced. of them said. “We never thought these people were Pashtuns or Hazara.”

But Mr. Inqayad’s sentiments contrast with that of provisional government of the Talibanconsisted almost entirely of Pashtun hardliners, who symbolized the movement’s harsh rule in the 1990s, and those seen as anti-Hazara.

As he spoke in the unit’s cramped barracks, a low-pitched speaker often played “taranas,” spoken prayer songs, without accompaniment, popular with the Talibs.

One of the group’s favorite songs is a song about the loss of a comrade, and the tragedy of lost youth. In a thin high voice, the singer insisted: “O death, you break and kill our hearts.”

On a day last fall when the Sakhi unit went live, families gathered on the tiled terraces around the temple, drinking tea and sharing food.

A few cautiously kept an eye on the Talibs patrolling the site, and a group of young men hurried to quit as they approached. The Taliban are generally scowling at smoking, and the unit has at times punished smokers.

Another day, two teenage boys came to the temple, blatantly walking with their two girlfriends. They were confronted by Sakhi unit who asked what they were doing. Unsatisfied with their responses, the Talibs dragged the boys into their bunk room to respond about the violation. In conservative Afghanistan, such public transportation is taboo, doubly in a mecca under the protection of the Taliban.

In their room, there was an argument between the Sakhi unit about how to handle the two boys: the good cop and the bad cop. Hekmatullah Sahel, one of the more seasoned members of the unit, disagreed with his comrades. He promotes lashing out with words rather than physical action. He was over-processed.

When the teenagers were finally allowed to leave, shivering from the beatings, Mr Sahel called the boys and told them to come back again – but without their girlfriends.

The episode is a reminder to temple visitors that Taliban fighters, though generally friendly, can still revert to the tactics that defined their religious hard-line rule in the early years. 1990.

For the group of six fighters, scrambling for flirtatious teenagers was just another sign that their days of guerrilla fighting were over. Now, they spend their time preoccupied with more security considerations, such as spotting potential looters (alcohol is banned in Afghanistan), fueling their pickup trucks units and wondered if their commander would give them the weekend off.

Mr. Omer had only joined the unit a few months before. “I joined the Emirate because I had a great desire to serve my religion and my country,” he said.

But to some Talibs, Mr Omer is what is derisively called a “21-er” – a boxer who only joins the movement in 2021, when victory is evident. This new generation of Talibs brings with them new expectations, mainly the desire to be paid.

They and most other high-ranking boxers have never received a salary from the movement. Despite the seizure of billions of dollars in US-supplied weapons and matrices, the Taliban are still not fully equipped. The warriors depended on their commander for basic supplies, and they had to look for anything more.

Mr. Sahel, 28, is older than most of his teammates, slower to get excited and more restrained. He spent four years studying at a university, all the time working as a secret agent for the movement. “None of my classmates knew that I joined the Taliban,” he said. He graduated with a degree in physics and mathematics pedagogy, but returned to the war.

The war is over, he and his comrades still remember the purpose it brought. “We are happy that our country has been liberated and we are now living in peace,” he said, but added, “we are saddened for our friends who were martyred.”

Every few weeks, the men were allowed to return to visit family in Wardak for two days. On a beautiful November morning, Mr. Inqayad sat in his home in the Masjid Gardena valley, where beautiful orchards and fields were bordered by mountain peaks.

He explained that many families in the area had lost their sons to the fighting and estimated that 80% of families in the area were Taliban supporters.

Mr. Inqayad attended school until the seventh grade, but had to drop out. Religious studies have filled in some gaps. He joined the Taliban at the age of 15.

Freshly married, he faces new challenges as the movement goes strong. As the only potential breadwinner in the family, he needs a salary to support his wife, mother and sisters, but so far he hasn’t pulled out a dime.

Back in Kabul, Sakhi’s unit prepares for a night patrol, regrouping to fend off the cold winds that blow incessantly from the mountains surrounding the city.

Mr. Omer rode on the bed of the unit’s truck, a machine gun in his lap and bullet bands wrapped around his neck like party beads.

But there is little to guarantee the heavy weapons used to suppress the enemy. Their area of ​​responsibility was quiet, and the men seemed bored as they circled the city as packs of street dogs chased and nibbled on the tires of passing cars.

Sami Sahak contribution report. Patrol: 12 days with the Taliban police unit in Kabul

Fry Electronics Team

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