Possibly, Kapisa Insurgent Figure Detained

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by Joshua Foust on 2/7/2010

According to ISAF (thanks Spencer!), Colonel Attaullah, the provincial deputy police chief, has been arrested on charges of facilitating IED networks and possibly a murder.

Attaullah has been at the forefront of security efforts in Kapisa—he was the government’s point man when an IED killed three U.S. soldiers in Sayad District; he was a voice of reason during the possible Tagab market attack last year; and so on.

Colonel Attaullah’s arrest isn’t exactly going over well. According to Pajhwok Afghan News, “Hundreds of people in Kapisa province staged a protest demonstration against the arrest of the provincial security chief by foreign troops.” They were blocking the road at Sayad, the same area where that IED killed several American troops last year.

Interestingly, the protests over Attaullah’s arrest do not seem related to the charges filed against him. “Only Afghan government had the right to arrest Kohistani and take action against him if he had committed any crime,” Muhammad Aman, one of the protestors, said. Governor Abu Bakar, who normally enjoys a polite but distant relationship with ISAF (several Americans accused him of being “worse than corrupt,” but we never gathered enough evidence for anything), said these sorts of arrests, “harmed their efforts for maintenance of security” in the area. Governor Bakar accused ISAF of arresting Colonel Attuallah without informing the local Afghans.

Thus far ISAF isn’t commenting on the matter. It also remains to be seen just what role Attaullah played in the insurgency in Kapisa. As we’ll see below, accusing him of being active around Mahmud-i Raqi would only make him responsible for violence in the last six months or so; there are years of entrenched insurgent cells elsewhere in the province.

Security and corruption in Kapisa have a troubled recent past. At the end of the summer of 2007, the U.S. and Afghan Armies were in the midst of their third attempt to clear Southern Kapisa of insurgents. Named Operation Nawroz Jhala, it was meant to be a showcase collaboration between small embedded training units, and elements of the Afghan National Army and Police. But they were thinly stretched: one embedded soldier who was active near the Tagab district center complained that for months his unit couldn’t “hold” any ground they cleared, since there were so few of them.

By the early part of 2008, government corruption was drastically affecting operations in Kapisa. A French-led ANA unit conducted a large operation to secure and hold the Alisay Valley. The original plan required the ANA to sweep the area and round up or kill any militants it could find so the police could move in and set up stations and checkpoints. According to a U.S. soldier embedded,with the Afghan units, though, barely any police showed up. Following the Serena Hotel bombing and the April parade attack, which rattled Afghanistan’s top political leadership, the ANA units were pulled out to provide security in and around Kabul.

At about this same time, something traumatic happened in the Nijrab Valley, near FOB Morales-Frazier, the primary base for U.S. and French operations in the province. An Afghan contractor was murdered. Said Mirjan was a popular figure among the communities of Nijrab and the upper Tagab—respected, stole very little if at all, and built good roads the people were happy to use. His death meant so much (and his life, to us, was so opaque), that we were surprised to find, almost a year later, that interview subjects still brought up his death as an example of how the Coalition cannot protect them from the “few dozen or so actual Taliban” fighters in the province.

Unfortunately, the western troops had bigger fish to fry. In June 2008, a few months after Mirjan’s death, Jane’s Terrorism & Security Monitor reported that two high-profile attacks in Kabul—the Serena Hotel and the Mujahidin Day Parade—were linked to the top Taliban commander of Kapisa, Qari Baryal. As a response, the Afghan government withdrew all the ANA from the area, and within months the entire Tagab area had descended into chaos. 2008 was the province’s worst year on record for ambushes, IED emplacements, and rocket attacks.

When I was there in the first part of 2009, the Tagab wasn’t terribly dangerous, but that was more a function of weather than anything else. Vehicle convoys still come under attack, however, which means the development people can’t let down their guard… even if they brag about building “sports stadiums.”

Last August, an NGO friend working in the area had reported that Mahmud-i Raqi, the provincial capital of Kapisa where Colonel Attaullah is accused of facilitating violence, had, along with a few districts north of there, come under increasing intimidation and threat from Hezb-i Islami Gulbuddin:

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.”

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.

More recently, I’ve had my doubts about how the province is going, based off scattered reports of the French Army’s performance.

So, is Colonel Attaullah an insurgent commander finally taken off the streets? A murderer? We have no way of knowing. But I’ll keep a close eye on what’s going on, and report back anything I can dig up.

Photo: shop keepers in Mahmud-i Raqi, taken by me February 2009.

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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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