Kapisa Teeters

Post image for Kapisa Teeters

by Joshua Foust on 8/12/2009 · 3 comments

Kapisa province, Afghanistan, can be seen as a microcosm of sorts for how the war can be won. It is a densely-packed, multiethnic enclave in steep valleys surrounded by tall mountains, and near enough to Kabul and Bagram that managing events there shouldn’t be too hard for the tens of thousands of troops in the area. It has unique ethnicities like the Pashai and Parachi, unique Pashtuns like the Safi, and huge areas of Tajik dominance. It also has had to deal with rather severe political fracture, driven in part by ethnic conflicts.

Kapisa has been the site of several failed attempts at counterinsurgency since 2005. There have been at least two special operations sweeps through the area, and at least three major Coalition efforts to clear and hold territory. In stable areas, the PRT has convinced the governor to begin some construction work, but Governor Abubaker is plagued by credible accusations of corruption and ethnic favoritism. Furthermore, there are worrying signs that fighters who wish to reconcile with the government can’t find someone who knows how to do it.

Try to find Alasay.

This year, the big push has been into the Alasay Valley, a mostly-Pashai enclave on the northeast shoulder of the Tagab Valley (our friend Old Blue worked in the Tagab as an ETT some years back). We’ve covered some aspects of the counterinsurgency there (see here, here, and here, for example), but there’s not been a whole lot of news coming out of the area recently.

An NGO friend (who must, sadly, remain anonymous) has been spending a lot of time in northern and western Kapisa—areas generally considered safe and permissive places to travel. At least in March, that was certainly the case—I had a wonderful time exploring some of the bazaars in Nijrab, out of uniform and without any kevlar of body armor. The people there, mostly Tajiks, were great, if a touch nosy. Now, however, things are different.

Hizb-i Islami Gulbuddin is one of the two tanzims active in the area during the jihad and the civil war. The other, Jamiat-i Islami, was in the area for obvious reasons, as Kapisa lies along the approach to the Panjshir River valley. But what’s so interesting about Kapisa is that most of the major Jamiat figures have managed to secure wealth and power in the post-2001 Afghanistan, while most of the HiG figures have not (there are notable exceptions, but these men renounced HiG). As a result, most of the violence in the area is not actually “Taliban” as we’d normally consider it, but HiG fighters (and in a lot of cases petty thugs) calling themselves Taliban.

This NGO friend reports that Kohistan, Mahmud Raqi, and Kohband districts, all of which were Jamiat and almost all Tajik, have become targetted zones of interest for the insurgency. Because they are close enough to Kabul, the militants count attacks there as attacks in Kabul—surely not good for the purposes of propaganda. “Our team sees a lot of movement of weapons and people from Pakistan with only a few intercepted by the security forces,” he says, “and there’s active insurgent surveillance along major roads where previously you’d never have seen them.”

That’s not good. As it stands now, after about 3 PM or so, locals seem to consider these areas—which, to repeat, were permissive and safe just a few months ago—to be out of the government’s control and firmly in the hands of the insurgents. They not just own the night now, but the evening and afternoon as well, even if night is still when they rocket district centers and shoot up police stations. The local security forces are doing what they’re doing most other places: the bare minimum possible to get past the election, with the hope that everything will go away afterward.

Considering a big movement of insurgents into Western Parwan—Shinwari and Ghorband districts mostly, just west and south of Bagram Air Field—this is really bad news for Kabul. The NGO worker said that the price of cars and motorbikes in Kabul is extremely low but food is high, due to people’s fears of post-election violence.

Many of the insurgents making this push, according to this NGO worker, are actually from Pakistan: the HiG networks in the province remain mostly as they were, at least geographically (so mostly limited to places like the Tagab). While last night the police finally arrested one of the insurgent surveillance teams, there is tremendous concern that, much like in early 2008, Haqqani Network and HiG fighters will use Kapisa as a staging ground to launch anti-election attacks on Kabul.

If the police start arresting the afternoon insurgents in northwest Kapisa, there’s a chance these attacks could be forestalled. But it requires the police really going after them, and getting significant French and American support to do so. And it is not at all clear either is willing or able to do that.

Photo: Tagab district center, February 2009, by me.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Old Blue August 12, 2009 at 8:39 am

Josh, I left you a really neat comment, but lost it because I somehow messed up my email addy when I entered it. I’ll try to take the time to reapproach later on. I just spent a few days in Kapisa and I’m working on a post on it myself, but wanted to share a few things with you on here, since I’m working on different information right now. The overall stability and rule of law piece was second or third in the que.

anand August 12, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Thanks for this very well written article. Here is a location where the large majority of locals are anti Taliban, anti-Hekmatyur (HiG), anti Haqqani and anti Punjabi Taliban. This is also a place with little quality ANP, ANA or ISAF security.

Shouldn’t the ANA, ANCOP (most quality ANP seem to be ANCOP), and ISAF focus on these areas for COIN, rather than areas where the Taliban is popular such as Helmand and Kandahar?

Kapisa province’s situation suggests to me that perhaps Obama should commit to a 20 year foreign aid program to Afghanistan, that would enable sufficient ANA and quality ANP (most are low quality and untrained at this time) to protect the large majority (but perhaps not all) of Afghanistan over the long term.

David M August 13, 2009 at 9:29 am

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/13/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

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