Monday, December 05, 2005

U.S. wearing out welcome

U.S. wearing out welcome

Jalalabad base a key border post. But raids, arrests straining relations

Dec. 5, 2005. 01:00 AM

JALALABAD, Afghanistan?The U.S. helicopters fly past Abdul Basir's house most mornings, off to conduct operations in the towns and villages near the border with Pakistan. They return hours later, once again skimming low over the rooftops in an attempt to avoid any hostile fire from below.

"People liked the Americans before, but for the last year they have been coming into homes without permission and imposing force, and people do not like them now," Basir said. "The problems happen mostly outside the city, but we also hear the stories here."

Jalalabad lies in eastern Afghanistan, near the country's border with Pakistan. It is a conservative area where traditional Islamic values still hold sway.

The large U.S. base on the city's outskirts has become a part of everyday life for residents, with armoured Humvees driving along the ramshackle streets as women dressed in burqas shop at roadside market stalls and children play with toy trucks.

However, the Americans' tactics are creating unrest. There is a growing feeling the troops could soon end up causing as many problems as they solve.

"One year ago, they killed a person who was just driving a car and not committing any crime. But we still need them to stay here because Afghanistan has a lot of enemies," said Basir, who lives in a nearby village.

Jalalabad is used as a staging post for U.S. operations in frontier provinces, where resistance from the Taliban and Al Qaeda remains fierce. The problem is the victims of the frequent U.S. house raids and air strikes often turn out to be civilians.

`The Americans are making so many mistakes ... arresting innocent people.'

Jandad Spin Ghar, human rights official

A senior official at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says troops have been committing abuses throughout the region, particularly in Kunar and Nangarhar.

Speaking in his Jalalabad office, Jandad Spin Ghar said: "The Americans are making so many mistakes while they are arresting people. They are arresting innocent people.

"The Americans have been ignoring Afghan culture. They have been entering into homes and questioning women, so that has created resentment.

"People are showing their reactions in different ways. Some are burning offices and blocking roads, some want to fight the Americans, some have left their homes ... and gone to Pakistan because they are afraid they will be arrested again.

"Arrests by American forces have decreased recently and that is good news. We have now got to hope they will decrease more in the future."

An hour's drive from the city is the village of Barikaw. Matiullah Khan disappeared from here nearly three years ago, leaving behind his wife, daughter and son. All the villagers know is that he went to the base on the outskirts of Jalalabad and offered to provide information about Al Qaeda in exchange for money. He was detained there for a short while, then vanished.

"We like the American people because they brought peace and stability here, but we hope he will come home. We try not to think if he is alive or dead. ... Maybe the Americans just misunderstood him," said Zabid, Matiullah's cousin.

"We want to ask the Americans why they took him. All the village says he is a good person. He never supported the Taliban."

A spokesman said the U.S. military would not discuss individual detainees.

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