Reporter Anna Badkhen traveled around Afghanistan talking to Afghans about how closely they are following the headline-making events of the war. Both Afghan and American troops were killed last week when Taliban insurgents shot down their helicopter in eastern Afghanistan.
Lisa Mullins: I am Lisa Mullins and this is The World. The Taliban militants responsible for shooting down a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan have now been killed themselves. U.S. officials say that the militants were targeted with an airstrike. The loss of that helicopter was a significant blow to the U.S. in Afghanistan. Thirty-eight American and Afghan forces were killed including several elite Navy Seals. Freelance reporter Anna Badkhen is in the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. She says the helicopter incident made an impression on people there.
Anna Badkhen: People in Mazar-e-Sharif who watched the news on TV, they will say, “Have you heard about the helicopter?” And then they will click their tongues and then they will say, “Things are getting worse and worse every day.” People in Mazar-e-Sharif are very concerned because Mazar-e-Sharif is one of the few places in Afghanistan that actually has benefitted from the invasion and from some aid money that, sort of, sifted through many, many pockets before it came here. So, fear that people will lose say, internet cafes or TV, or large weddings with music; people in the city have things to lose. People in the villages mostly have not heard of the crash. Actually, I was here a few days after Osama Bin Laden was killed, and people in the villages were saying, “Who?” They had never heard of Osama Bin Laden, because to them it is completely irrelevant.
Mullins: Anna, you were in one particular village – it’s a desert area north of Mazar-e-Sharif where you are right now – and you saw evidence of the Taliban moving in. Tell us what happened on one particular evening?
Badkhen: The Taliban fighters on motorcycles arrived in Karaghuzhlah which is a village of about 2,500 people, mostly apricot and almond farmers in north of Mazar-e-Sharif. They arrived at night. They walked into a mosque and they delivered two identical letters demanding zakat, which is basically a 10% religious tax that would finance their holy war against the occupation and against the Karzai government. Then they returned a few days later and fired rockets at a police checkpoint in Karaghuzhlah to reinforce their message, and then they left. And then the police pulled out, basically leaving this village in a state of, sort of a dark limbo. So, people who lived in the village but worked for the government, or in police, or worked with foreign organizations, they stopped coming home at nights. People who remained in the village stopped going out at night because they are afraid again of being caught by the Taliban.
Mullins: What happened in this one community, how much is that really being replicated elsewhere?
Badkhen: I believe that this is a paradigm for this latest situation of war that is being scrawled over the [??] of woe that Afghanistan, Northern Afghanistan particularly, is. It seems to be a pattern. People I’ve spoken to in other villages basically tell me the same story or a very similar story; that the Taliban arrived and claimed dominion over a village and then left. But nobody is quite sure how far they went and people aren’t sure when they will return next time. Maybe they come back every night. Maybe they’ve been back 4 or 5 times. Nobody has seen them, or if somebody has seen them… You know, because they come in at night and people are afraid to go out at night, it’s very hard to grasp the level of Taliban presence.
Mullins: That’s Anna Badkhen in Afghanistan for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.