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Over the ranking of these intruders, Zalwar Olla, whose name in Pashto olla brave leader, becomes more content. Lunch finally tricks, this time not a any feast but fish wrapped in a linea newspaper game on U. Three kids play cricket among the ranking gravestones in a cemetery that is the largest in the click. Once emblematic of Game military paulin, the outposts are now all shells. For poker main, he sat in the incredible palace and discussed with Karmal what could be done to club peace to the Pech Game. The village was a key part of a click trade that thrived untilwhen Jo Karzai shut the trade down after dating that timber sales were any fueling the insurgency.
His pants are cut short, high above his ankles, a style cue that in this region conveys his status libes an ultra-conservative Muslim. In his pocket are jalalanad beads, which he twirls through his fingers when he speaks about Islam and jihad, the Taliban and the Americans. Yet over the last decade, Zalwar Khan has served as a pendulum between two opposing forces—the Taliban and the Americans—fighting to control ib otherwise obscure valley jalalabsd a forgotten province. He was present at every meeting the Americans hosted with tribal elders during much of the last Cat, when the U. He listened to well-intentioned, ultimately exasperated American commanders talk ad nauseam about money, Sex chat lines in jalalabad and development in a restive area most Afghans Sec forsaken and jalalagad.
Our driver is a doctor who was held in detention for three lihes by U. He has cbat eyes and a narrow black beard speckled with gray. Given that this trip was authorized by chah shadow governor and Zalwar Khan is escorting us, the likelihood of getting blown up or ambushed seems nonexistent. We have told only two confidants about our plans. We try to forget about the possibility of an attack. Every so often, a vehicle passes in the opposite direction. Most drivers using this road are headed to and from a handful of capillary valleys in the Pech. Besides the Korengal, there are the Shuryek and Watapur valleys.
The former was the site of Operation Red Wings, the ill-fated mission in which 19 U. On one trip into the Pech Valley last summer, Afghan special forces on patrol calmly waved us over to the side of the road behind a house as they fanned out to attack several Arabs assaulting a small base meters away. Cheat Sheet A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know and nothing you don't. You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason. We are here because, simply put, Kunar province, and the Korengal, is as close to the front lines as can be found in an asymmetrical war without boundaries. In our travels, the goal was to find the area that provided a glimpse of the state of this much theorized but ultimately inscrutable conflict—and may act as a bellwether of things to come.
And in talking with elders associated with the Taliban everywhere possible, one place stood out: Every single actor in this conflict has a presence in this often forgotten province, making it the ideal test case for the future of the country. We sought out the one man who could safely guide us in and out of the Korengal Valley: II Afghanistan is a vastly different country than it was inwhen the Western headlines discussed American soldiers fighting a futile war to protect a failed state. The dire fatalism that dominated the discourse then is gone, replaced largely with a practiced apathy.
The surge, announced what feels like a lifetime ago with the approving nods of celebrity generals like Petraeus and McChrystal, has receded. From a peak of more thanU. The private security contractors and their for-profit development cousins are shuttering offices and laying off staff, while the U. The main problem facing Western governments here is the fate of their equipment: The West is packing up, victorious in battle but defeated in war. After more than 12 years of combat and more than 2, U. Let Afghanistan fend for itself. And yet, even while seldom leaving the capital, they offer a perspective on the city that tilts toward distortion.
They remain relentless in peddling a prognosis of doom. In their defense, Kabul can still be dangerous. In January, an attack on a Lebanese cafe popular with expats left 21 people dead. Matt narrowly Sex chat lines in jalalabad becoming a statistic during a Taliban attack on a Sex chat lines in jalalabad in March and found himself running through hallways as the sound of bullets and screams echoed throughout the building, and both of us felt the rattling blast of twin car bombs attacking a building a block from our offices a few days later.
Arms and munitions are regularly intercepted going into the city by local security forces; the threat of the occasional attack remains real. But to say the capital teeters on the verge of collapse is both melodramatic and misleading. As we know from the invitations that show up in our email, the expats who remain in Kabul still debate which party to attend first on weekends. Practically every city block is under construction. The mayor in speech after speech talks about more development projects designed to bring more electricity, more water, and more paved roads. The fact that all Western reporters covering the war are based there. And despite the better part of a decade of intense Taliban effort, the new governmental system created in is very likely to survive into the next decade and beyond.
By contrast, over the course of a year and a dozen visits, we found it to offer a glimpse of where the country is heading, and discovered a story only half told. This always seemed odd to us given that 54 Americans died in the Korengal, more than any other one place in the country. It should always matter. Because between us, we spent 14 years living and working in Afghanistan. These were spent mainly at the American University there, with Daniel as Director of Admissions and Matt as Director of Communications, and gradually we realized that it was possible to get around the country even in its current state if you knew the right people and spoke the languages. This was the project to put it all together, to see what was on the other side.
Here, the overt and covert worlds collide: Drones, IEDs and suicide bombers are the weapons of choice. International jihadis are rumored to slip in and out, primarily Arabs and Chechens, who flocked to the country in large numbers in the s when the Taliban reigned. The Afghan Army has deployed its best soldiers here, including battle-tested commandos trained by the CIA. The Afghan police are here as well, as is the central government, attempting to shape the course of events from Asadabad, located at the entrance to the Pech Valley. The office is run by a former Hezb-e Islami commander who himself switched sides in Showing up a few minutes early for a meeting with him last summer, we were escorted by his aide into a side room, where we found ourselves exchanging formalities with active Taliban fighters from up the road interested in, at least, talking.
How to tell if she likes you quiz The Americans used to be in the area in large numbers, and though they left years ago, they did so only after sending home many of their dead. Fifty-four Americans lost their lives in the Korengal fighting a mission that, if it was ever clear to the American population why U. The story is simple and one that belies the intensity of the conflict. Insurgents used the Korengal as a staging ground for attacks on the Pech Valley, a strategically vital corridor that stretches west to east from the province of Nuristan through Kunar almost to the Pakistani border.
Controlling the corridor was essential to supporting deep operations elsewhere in eastern Afghanistan. To alleviate the pressure of attacks across the region, and to give time for the Afghan Army to take over security in the valley, U. Always nearby were—and still are—CIA paramilitary officers. The two tribes—Korengali and Safi—have been feuding for more than a century, when the inhabitants of the Korengal first moved there from Nuristan, displacing the Safi tribes. Despite the trade officially being banned, he explains, timber was still locally harvested and sold. Zalwar Khan recalled he occasionally marched to the Korengal Outpost seeking the release of detained villagers.
The locals started grumbling about a violent resistance. The cycle continued until airstrikes devastated houses in the tiny village of Yaka China in the upper Korengal and the elders declared war against U. This downward spiral involving local power politics was obvious to the Americans in the valley. He quickly built a reputation as a ferocious commander who successfully coordinated attacks throughout the Pech and Korengal valleys. Our plan to meet him early last year was undone when he was killed by a drone strike in the Korengal. When asked whether or not the fight against U. While Kabul sleeps, we slip out in the predawn darkness.
Snoozing police sit sprawled in the middle of the road on plastic chairs, not bothering to look at our car, an old Toyota Corolla with faded colors and dented bumpers much like every other car in this country. We start picking up speed along the Kabul-Jalalabad Highway, a road built by the Chinese that connects the capital with the eastern provinces while winding its way up and down the Hindu Kush. On the outskirts of town before the final checkpoint inspecting cars leaving the city, we pass a seemingly endless expanse of construction equipment—tractors, cranes, steamrollers—shipped in by Afghan, Western and even Arab businessmen looking to get rich on a construction boom that began in earnest during the surge and has mellowed as resources have dried up.
Despite the early hour, the road teems with trucks and cars. Most of the trucks, ornately painted and festooned with flags of all shapes and sizes, are returning empty to Pakistan, having dropped off their goods in Kabul for distribution around the country. Cars swarm dangerously around them on this two-lane road carved, literally, into the side of a chain of mountains. Only a short rock wall separates us from Sex chat lines in jalalabad drop of hundreds of feet. It is this kind of terrain that makes this country so hard to secure. Most of the time, the three-hour, serpentine drive to Jalalabad is gorgeous and calm, though attacks can happen.
Most resemble assassination attempts rather than coordinated assaults. Fighters nestled in the crags of the mountainside fire a few rounds or rocket-propelled grenades at a passing truck or convoy, then scurry away. While Afghans in Kabul talk about computers and the importance of social media, here there are no jeans or hair gel, just traditional clothing paired with highly traditional values and basic amenities: Nokias instead of iPhones. Edge internet instead of 3G. Six months Sex chat lines in jalalabad of the year, the temperatures exceed degrees. Nothing conveys the gravity of this war like seeing a drone descend missile-less minutes before another rises into the sky fully loaded.
Drone policy is something debated in Kabul. Here they are not merely grist for conversation; they are the most distant extension of American military power. Some are headed to Kunar, others to Pakistan. A phalanx of money-changers runs between the shops, converting Pakistani rupees to Afghan afghanis to U. Nobody pays anybody much mind, the atmosphere is one of sealing the deal over tea. The temperament of the people changes from indifferent to suspicious as we cross the Behsud Bridge into the outskirts of Jalalabad, leaving the city and heading north-east to Kunar, skirting along the Pakistan border. Girls wear blue burqas despite being years from puberty, the usual time to don the body-length veil, which at that age functions as an external chastity belt.
The areas that are under the cultural if not literal control of the Taliban are visualized in the American mind and portrayed in the American media as places of darkness, full of hate, violence, guns and angry, bearded men. They are presumed to be inaccessible. This could not be farther from the reality of eastern Afghanistan, where the view is breathtaking, bordering on epic. A lush valley bursts with color in the summertime as full fields bloom with a wide variety of crops, fed by a wide, churning river that powers by and framed by a crystal blue sky with a burning, bright yellow sun. Snow-capped mountains emerge gently into view in the distance, covered in pine trees at the highest elevations.
Men cross the river at shallow points with herds of animals while women tend the fields in colorful dresses. Having traversed the Hindu Kush and the Kabul riverbed, we slip into Asadabad, a tiny provincial capital nestled along the Kunar River only a few miles from the Pakistani border. After a brief search by a security guard, we arrive in the city after passing a U. V We first met Hajji Zalwar Khan over tea and lunch in the Pech Valley in a house clinging to a cliff high above the valley floor. Utilizing relationships with local Kunaris that have been nurtured over the last decade, we determined the best method for contacting the Korengali council was through an acquaintance who, in his younger years, was a Hizb-e-Islami commander for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
He readily agreed to host what he said would be the social event of the season: Two Americans and the entire council of elders from the Korengal Valley. On the valley floor outside the windows of the house are the remnants of FOB Michigan, turned over to the Afghan Army in The small base was a way station for U. Soldiers rotated out of the valley from other bases in the Pech for a weekend of relief from the fighting before being sent back. Zalwar Khan himself could only remember the name of one U. The elders stuck largely to formalities in our initial meeting in earlywhich was as slow and uninformative as we expected it to be given that the only objective of the meeting was to introduce ourselves, explain our purpose and painstakingly start building a rapport.
Zalwar Khan spoke two short sentences over two hours, delegating to younger elders to talk about the weather, the harvest, and the ancient history of the valley, our neutral topics guaranteed not to offend. With all of us seated along the edges of a room on cushions, the two of us at the head of the rectangle, we slowly began asking questions. Boys from the house, when not listening to the conversation, continuously ran between everyone, refilling tea glasses with boiling water. After two hours of slow and deliberate conversation, the boys, on cue from a nod by the house owner, disappear and return minutes later with dozens of plates of freshly killed chickens and heaps of sliced vegetables alongside bowls of soup and stacks of warm bread.
We close our notebooks. One of them rolls out a food mat onto the carpet, filling in the rectangular space in front of us while the elders scooch closer. Another boy walks around and offers a water jug and basin for everyone to wash their hands. As is customary, nobody talks while we eat, and the room is full of the sounds of hungry men eating food prepared by several women we will never meet or, following custom, even ask about. The two of us exchange glances with each other as the rest of the room digs into the food with their hands—the atmosphere, with all of the elders smiling and passing around the plates in accordance with their standings in the tribal hierarchy, with Zalwar Khan, in a show of modesty, refusing food until everyone else has started eating, is peaceful and calm, and makes a mockery of our concerns about being mistreated.
After everyone has had their fill, we thank them for their time and arrange our next meeting. The nods continue and we part ways. We drive back to Asadabad in silence, where we switch cars for security reasons and begin the six hour drive back home. Neither of us says a word until we begin the ascent through the mountains back up into Kabul as the sun sets, a blinding orange turning slowly to a peaceful purple and light blue. Our headphones are in, with one of us listening to jazz and the other to heavy metal, snaking the cables under our shalwar kameezes and pakol hats. For every subsequent meeting, of which there were more than a dozen over the course of a year, we started off talking about the jihad, heeding advice from two researchers who spent years in Kandahar working in close proximity to the Taliban.
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