Afghan Villagers Stone a Taliban Commander to Deathhttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/23/world/asia/23afghanistan.html?ref=world
KABUL, Afghanistan — Angry villagers stoned to death a local Taliban commander and his bodyguard in southern Afghanistan Sunday after the militants killed a 60-year-old man accused of aiding the government, Afghan officials said.
It was a rare reversal of brutality aimed at the Taliban and, some Afghan officials believe, suggests a growing sense of security in an area where the insurgency has lost ground to NATO forces in the last two years. The stoning happened in the Nawa District of Helmand Province, a verdant agricultural area along the Helmand River Valley, now considered one of the safest places in the volatile south as a result of a heavy influx of American troops and aid dollars.
“People won’t tolerate the Taliban’s barbaric actions anymore,” said Dawoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand Province. “They will stand against them whenever they are harmed.”
The stoning occurred a day after insurgents in the northeastern province of Kunar stoned, hanged and shot two Afghan National Army soldiers returning from leave, Afghan officials said. The attacks were unrelated and happened far away from each other, but they underscored the grisly nature of the insurgency even as NATO officials say overall violence in the country is beginning to show a sustained downward trend for the first time in five years.
Enemy-initiated attacks were down in 12 of the last 16 weeks compared with the same periods last year, Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, said Monday. Over all, levels of violence are higher than last year, NATO officials said, but the recent declines, coming in what is supposed to be the Taliban’s prime fighting season, have led to hope among the officials that violence by the end of 2011 will fall below 2010 levels, which were the worst since the war began almost 10 years ago.
The Helmand episode began Sunday evening when two armed insurgents roared up on a motorcycle to a mosque in the village of Trekh Zaber, where Yaar Muhammad, a local farmer, and his two sons were waiting to celebrate Iftar, the evening breaking of the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
The men ordered Mr. Muhammad to come to them, and as he did, they fired their weapons, killing him instantly, said Hajji Hayatullah, a district council member. As Mr. Muhammad fell, his sons jumped the two gunmen and pulled them off their motorcycle. Other villagers joined in, officials said, beating the men to death with stones.
Officials said Mr. Muhammad had received threats but, apart from being friends with a former provincial governor, had no official role in the government.
“The Taliban dislike people who have sympathy with the government, that might be the reason,” Mr. Hayatullah said.
Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, denied that Taliban were involved. “This must be a personal issue among the villagers themselves,” he said by cellphone from an undisclosed location.
Hajji Abdul Manaf Kan, the district governor, said the stoning showed that fear of the Taliban is waning as security has improved in the area. “When the people feel secure, they will definitely rise up against the Taliban,” he said.
But some simply viewed it as an act of vengeance.
“I don’t think people feel secure in Nawa,” said Hajji Ahmad Shah Khan, a tribal elder there. “I myself don’t feel secure, because the armed men are so cruel against the people. It is hard to raise voices against them. But when someone kills someone’s father or brother in front of you, it makes you retaliate.”
While violence has dropped with the surge of American troops in some parts of the province, the Taliban have been asserting themselves in Gereshk, a market town on the ring highway that circles the country.
A bomb hidden in a metal shop in the bazaar blew up early Monday, killing the shopkeeper as well as a child sitting in a car parked outside, Afghan officials said. Over the weekend, armed men on motorcycles gunned down a district council member and a local prosecutor.
It was part of a campaign of assassinations that have plagued the south in recent months, singling out not only high-ranking officials but also low-level civil servants. Among those assassinated was Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s half brother and the influential leader of the Kandahar provincial council. He was killed in July.
Violence, meanwhile, has continued to shift from the south to the east, where, in Kunar Province, the two Afghan Army soldiers returning to base from home leave on Saturday night were yanked from their taxi by insurgents in Ghaziabad District, said Col. Sheren Aqa of the army’s 201st Corps.
“Then, the armed men and some of their other local friends started stoning them brutally and then hanged them,” Colonel Aqa said.
As a final measure, Colonel Aqa said, they shot the men. “This was a horrible and sad incident,” he said. “No one would kill detainees like this, as they did.”
Officials found the mutilated bodies on Sunday and returned them to their families, Colonel Aqa said.