The following article ran as part of an eight-part series by Jon Sawyer, originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch June 6-24, 2004.
Commander Mohammed Malangyar says that after 25 years of near-continuous fighting, he is ready for civilian life.
"... My preference might be a position with the national police," says Malangyar, one of the few militia leaders who has publicly embraced the U.N. effort to disarm and demobilize the private armies of Afghanistan.
With a thick black beard and bushy eyebrows reminiscent of Fidel Castro in his prime and the rakish charm of actor George Clooney, Malangyar makes his home base in the eastern Afghan province of Nangrahar. But he has told U.N. representatives he wouldn't mind moving.
"I have told them I would also like to be a military attache at an embassy in some other country."
He has provided the names of 183 soldiers who serve under him in the "837th regiment of the 11th division," numbers that give an air of order and scale not much in evidence among the ragtag militia troops themselves.
Those now in service and who disarm are eligible for aid in the form of food, training and jobs to ease their return to civilian life while the country creates its first national army. The formal process is set to begin Saturday with a parade, a pledge by each of the militia soldiers never to take up private arms again and, most important, the handover of their weapons.
But the cooperative Malangyar is the exception among the militia commanders. Most of the prominent warlords have not submitted even the most basic information about soldiers reportedly under their control.