Last night, on Frontline, Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi gave us a peek at the inner workings of insurgents operating in northern Afghanistan. At the invitation of insurgent Commander Mirwais, Quraishi spent 10 days embedded a the cell as they attempted to disrupt one of the key supply routes to Kabul through Kunduz and Baghlan.
Needless to say, it’s a must see. This kind of access is rare. Quraishi keeps the camera rolling when he’s not supposed to — not that the insurgents’ public relations apparatus is highly functioning — and we get a pretty solid view of what this group’s all about.
For the most part, it’s really not that impressive. The insurgents, identified by Quraishi as mainly Hizb-e Islami but with some Taliban and foreign elements, use weapons buried since the Russian invasion and donated by villagers, along with IEDs made from old Russian shells, filled by hand and tamped with sticks. When they arrived at the highway, they weren’t really sure how to hide; their intelligence network continually failed; and their knowledge about the IED cell-phone trigger was rudimentary, at best. When the mission was bust, and even before, the default was to point the finger: “You’re sitting there on cotton cushions, and we’re in the fields.”
When they head to the mountains, they’re asked to mediate disputes, and, interestingly, they jail and propose beheading for a man known to be involved in the drug trade.
There’s also very little discussion of Islam, though one gentleman’s job is to “make sure everyone prays five times a day.” With a smile on his face, he slaps those who make mistakes while trying to memorize the Koran. The true bogeyman, however, is “foreign forces in Afghanistan,” which jibes with the suggestion by Hizb-e Islami’s leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar that he would be willing to reconcile with the Karzai government if foreign forces were to leave.