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Obama's War

Obama's War

Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan | Full Coverage

In Kandahar, the Taliban targets and assassinates those who support U.S. efforts

In Kandahar, the Taliban's most powerful weapon has become the calculated assassination. The tools of this murder campaign are rudimentary -- ropes, knives, old rifles -- but the results have been devastating. The slayings take aim at the goal of the U.S. military's planned summer offensive in Kandahar: to build a credible local government that responds to the needs of the people.

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By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 22, 2010

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN -- The Wolesi family was everything the American military cannot afford to lose.

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The father was a devoted civil servant. The mother taught sewing classes for the United Nations. The eldest son, Jawed Ahmad, worked as an interpreter at the NATO base.

But with a dozen bullets last month, the Taliban won the battle for the Wolesi family. Ahmad's father was executed in the street. His mother quit her job. Ahmad dropped out of college and does not want to leave the house. Or open his mouth: "When my father passed away, I lost my English," he said in Pashto.

In Kandahar, the Taliban's most powerful weapon has become the calculated assassination. The tools of this campaign are rudimentary -- ropes, knives, old rifles -- but the results have been devastating. By executing those who work or sympathize with the government, the Taliban has made clear that those supporting the American military effort here are risking their lives. Each new death brings more dread in a city of hunters and hunted.

"They're watching us. We don't know who, but they're watching," Ahmad said. "Nowhere is safe. We cannot escape."

The killings take aim at the fundamental goal of the U.S. military's planned summer offensive in Kandahar: to build a credible local government that responds to the needs of the people. In the past month, about six people have quit the already understaffed provincial government, and other federal ministry representatives in the province have taken leave. Targeted by bombs and killings of their local staff, foreigners working for U.S. government contractors and the United Nations have fled for Kabul.

The tactics in Kandahar differ from those in other major cities, such as Kabul, where attacks often involve high-profile, multipronged assaults by gunmen and suicide bombers against government or commercial buildings. The killers here rely on stealth and speed.

The spate of killings has reached the rate of one to two a week. Targets are everywhere: government bureaucrats, policemen, aid workers, tribal elders. In the first four months of the year, 27 government officials or Afghans working with foreign contractors in Kandahar city were assassinated, according to U.S. figures. In the same period in 2009, there were 15 such killings; in 2008, there were six.

Last Wednesday, it was Nadi Gul Khan, the office manager of Kandahar's Saraposa prison, shot by a bicyclist who pedaled up to his car window during his morning commute. Before that came Azizullah Yarmal, the city's deputy mayor, executed as he bent to prayer in a mosque. Three weeks after tribal elder Abdul Rahman rose in a crowded hall to tell President Hamid Karzai about the problems in Kandahar, Rahman lay bleeding in the dirt outside his house. His assassins roared off on a motorcycle.

The attacks are occasionally preceded by a warning. The chancellor of Kandahar University, Hazrat Mir Tota Khil, held out with a trembling hand his Nokia cellphone. "We've warned you many times to stop working with the government," the text message began. "Just keep counting the days of your life. Your death has been approved."

Nearly four months ago, Ahmad's father, Mohammad Hussein Wolesi, who ran the cooperative farm program at the Agriculture Ministry, woke to find a similar message taped to his gate. The note was penned in blue ink on Taliban stationery, addressed to "Mr. Manager."

"For a long time we've been receiving reports about you, your sons, and your women. They are working with the government," it read. "If they do not stop within three days, you will not have a chance to complain."


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