Rude Awakening

I’ve been woken up each morning at around 5am for the last two days by a constant stream of helicopters and jets passing over my house here in Kandahar City. A big battle is being fought in Dand district, just over 10 kilometres away from the city.

The Taliban are able to operate within the city, as shown by the world’s largest prison break a month or so ago, but the main fighting goes on in the districts.
In fact I’m amazed how bad things have become so quickly since I was last here in February. It’s probably a combination of the prison break and the summer season, when fighting usually picks up. At least 1000 criminals and Taliban fighters on the run doesn’t help, either.

I went to Arghandab district, nowadays probably the most strategic location that’s under threat from the Taliban and that looks set to fall in the next couple of months. It’s already more or less completely infiltrated, especially what with Mullah Omar’s father-in-law on the district shura… Here’s a video:


A huge operation was carried out in Arghandab just over two weeks ago, with at least a dozen men kidnapped from their homes (multiple villages all over the district, but all at exactly the same time) and some killed. One village saw the mother, father, two sons and grandson killed when the father resisted being kidnapped and fought back. A fistfight ended in gunshots.
Arghandab faced further Taliban encroachments in the past few days. On 9th August, 4 people were kidnapped from Khuja Mulk village, and on 10th August a former mujahideen commander was killed in Kohak.
These attacks are thus in the far east and the far west, showing the extent of the Taliban’s ability to operate in Arghandab and to carry out their operations. In reality, the Taliban are present throughout the entire district.

A couple of years ago I remember going swimming in the streams that flowed off from the Arghandab river every day for at least a month. Now it’s no longer safe to do that, and I have to content myself with an occasional trip to a billionaire former druglord’s palace to use his pool.
As much a rite of passage for foreign journalists as for poor Afghans seeking miracles, the Arab Cemetery in Kandahar (attached to the Taliban Cemetery) is situated a little way outside town.

A friend going there for some photos took my Flip Camera with him and made some videos.
Due to some technical difficulties relating to the theft of my Sony Vaio charger while transiting through the airport, I’m unable to edit the videos together into one single video.
Here you can see boys tending to the graves in the Arab Cemetery. They’re putting salt into the bowls at the foot of each grave. People come to pray for a medical miracle, or for assistance with their problems, and eat the salt as part of this belief.


Of course, it has nothing to do with Islam, but in a part of the country where there are often only a dozen doctors operating outside the city, you have to take whatever help you can get.

This woman came all the way from Herat:


This video comes from the Taliban Cemetery, where a large number of well-known Taliban (from the 1990s) are buried.


It’s a completely different deal from the Arab Cemetery, though, as Taliban are brought there especially to be buried. The Arab Cemetery exists in this place simply because a large number of Arabs died there. They are buried in the clothes they were wearing at the time, along with the weapons they carried, too.


and here’s some more footage


Of course the talk of the town these days is the arrival of our new governor yesterday morning. Security was stepped up all over town, with even American forces manning checkpoints in some areas. There’s no great dissapointment over the long-overdue departure of Asadullah Khaled, who sewed tribal division and oversaw the transition of Kandahar to the state it’s in today.
Elders and district government authorities will be visiting the new governor, Raofi, over the coming days. Let’s see how he plans to deal with the situation.