Decade on, Afghans Turn to Taliban
“Most of the problems, not only in Wardak, but all over the country, are caused by the Americans and these problems are getting larger,” Esmatullah Maseed, a civil engineer, told OnIslam.net.
Bloodshed in Afghanistan has reached record levels this year, with the UN reporting that the number of innocent people killed in the conflict rose 15 percent in the first half of 2011.
It blames the Taliban for the vast majority of the violence.
Yet, Afghans believe that the roots of the trouble can be found in the aggressive and often brutal tactics of the US-led foreign troops.
“In their operations, especially their bombing, they have brought mass civilian casualties, and they have arrested civilians,” said Maseed.
Although only a short distance from the capital Kabul, Maidan Wardak has become a Taliban stronghold that is beyond the government’s control in all but a handful of places.
A major highway passes through the province and insurgent attacks against NATO supply convoys travelling on the road are common.
In August, Taliban fighters shot down a Chinook helicopter in the area, killing 30 American soldiers, including 22 Navy SEALs. Seven Afghan soldiers and an interpreter also died in the attack.
Then, in September, almost 80 US troops were injured when a suicide truck bomber attacked a local military base.
For villagers, however, the real story of the war is happening away from the news headlines.
What matters to them is the persistent low-level violence they say they experience on a regular basis, leaving people unsafe in their own homes and driven to fight out of anger and disillusionment, as much as ideology.
Men visiting the capital from Maidan Wardak described living in a permanent state of fear. They accused US forces of deliberately killing civilians and insulting Afghan culture by raiding houses at night.
Babyan Wardak is a retired engineer from the district of Chak, who studied at Cairo University in Egypt.
“It is the right of local people to announce ‘I do not want you here, I do not like you, you are the oppressor’, but the Americans are killing them for this decision,” he told OnIslam.net.
“This has led people to accept the Taliban when in fact they have a lot of problems with them too. Here there is a saying: ‘compared to a bull a cow is better’.”
Despite the growing tension and pessimism that can now found be across the country, NATO and the US insist the situation is improving.
A recent Pentagon report spoke of “sustained progress” in Afghanistan and claimed the number of insurgent attacks nationwide had fallen significantly.
While violence in Maidan Wardak had risen by 19 percent during the summer fighting season, the Taliban were under “increasing pressure”, it said.
The positive tone that has started to emanate from Washington comes as preparations continue for the scheduled withdrawal of all foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
Responsibility for security is already gradually being transferred to Afghan forces.
Places chosen for the next stage of the handover include the only three districts in Maidan Wardak that residents describe as relatively safe.
In the rest of the province, residents insist the war shows no sign of winding down as more and more people turn to the Taliban in a last desperate attempt to establish some kind of peace.
“I think the reason they [foreign troops] are killing us indiscriminately is that they are infidels,” said Khalid Wardak, a shopkeeper and father-of-three.
“Finally they will fail and we will succeed because the Holy Qur’an says right will succeed and wrong will fail. The solution is to defeat them here and teach them not to be the oppressor.”