Afghanistan - Taliban Claim to Raise a Flag Over Nuristan

By Robert Mackey

Updated | Thursday | 9:07 a.m. The propaganda battle continues four days after a deadly attack on two American military bases in the Afghan province of Nuristan left eight American and four Afghan soldiers dead.

As my colleague Elisabeth Bumiller reported on Tuesday, NATO posted a statement on its Web site claiming a victory of sorts in the fighting around the mountainous village of Kamdesh, declaring that “a more detailed battlefield assessment following the Oct. 3 attack in Nuristan has determined that enemy forces suffered more than 100 dead during the well-coordinated defense — significantly higher losses than originally thought.”

According to Reuters, the Taliban retaliated by claiming on their Web site that “they had raised their flag in Kamdesh District of Nuristan Province on Wednesday morning at a function attended by locals.”

Col. Wayne Shanks, a senior press officer for American and NATO forces, told Reuters that no matter what the Taliban claimed, “I can guarantee you we have not left Nuristan. We are there. We are doing the same operations we have been doing.”

Colonel Shanks also told the news agency that American soldiers were still present at the two outposts that were attacked on Saturday, although both sites would eventually be abandoned, in accordance with a decision made well before the attack to redeploy international forces to more populated areas of Afghanistan.

The NATO statement also points to the remarkable fact that the American military is still not exactly sure who it was attacked by in Kamdesh. The statement notes that “the group responsible for conducting the attack was initially reported as ‘Nuristani tribal militia,’ ” but on further review it now seems that the Taliban may have been involved, along with another Afghan militia led by the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who led a mujahedeen force against the Soviets in the 1980s.

As we noted on The Lede blog on Tuesday, the Americans in Kamdesh were vulnerable to attack in part because they were based beneath steep mountain slopes.

The perils of such a location are reinforced by this photograph of the village, which was shot from a ridge high above it and posted today on the Taliban Web site.

The English-language version of the Taliban Web site also includes a statement pointing out that Wednesday was the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. The statement suggests that Americans “have a glance at the history” of Afghan wars. As it happens, the remote mountainous province of Nuristan has been a difficult place for outside forces to control during more than one Afghan war.

As my colleague Carlotta Gall pointed out in 2004, when a collection of pre-Islamic art from the region went on display, Nuristan “was formerly known as Kafiristan, or Land of the Heathens,” to the rest of the Afghans because the people living in these high mountains had successfully resisted conversion to Islam until 1896. That year, the army of the Afghan ruler Emir Abdur Rahman finally seized control of the region and forced the population to abandon its worship of ancestors and animistic and polytheistic gods.

In a post about Nuristan on the blog Registan, Joshua Foust wrote, “These are the people who fought off Timur, Babur, and Alexander (literally, not just in the mythography of Afghanistan), and until a century ago had the most unique religion in the world.”

Richard Strand, an ethnolinguist who has done field work in the region for decades, noted on his Web site that “Nuristanis are today such devout Muslims that they were the first citizens of Afghanistan to successfully revolt against the communist overthrow of their government in 1978.”

Indeed, an article published in The New York Times in January 1979 on the insurgency against the Soviet-backed Afghan government reported: “Three months ago the guerrillas, sniping from mountain ridges and attacking at night, captured the town of Kamdesh, 40 miles north of Chigha Sarai. They have held the town since then, despite repeated attempts by the Government forces to recapture it.”

As Mr. Strand noted on his Web site, the success of those Nuristani fighters “inspired others throughout the country to rise up and bleed the Soviet Union to death through thirteen years of war. The straw that broke the Soviet Union’s back sprouted in Nuristan.”

Read the full story here.


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