In a positive sign for U.S. efforts to stabilize the country, grassroots, popular uprisings against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan are growing, while reported plans this week for a complete U.S. troop pullout from the country prompted opposition to the plan from Afghan officials.
U.S. officials said that during June new uprisings against the terrorist militia took place in southern and eastern Afghanistan, including Uruzgan and Nangarhar provinces. The new activities followed growing anti-Taliban movements in Ghazni and Logar provinces that had been underway for the past year.
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"First and foremost, the anti-Taliban movements reflect the local populace's growing intolerance of Taliban influence and abuse," Air Force Lt. Col. David Simons, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Forces, the U.S.-led military coalition, told the Washington Free Beacon.
The causes for the reaction are diverse but a common factor is the desire of the Afghan people to "withstand the oppression and brutality of the Taliban," Simons said.
"The uprisings serve as examples that Afghans are ready to rebel against Taliban tyranny and that the Taliban are losing their influence on the population, even in Pashtun areas," he said.
The Taliban have sought to discredit the movement by claiming that it is a U.S.-backed covert action program. The insurgents have also claimed it is a deliberate program of the central Kabul government under Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has angered U.S. officials in recent weeks.
The movement includes armed militias that are challenging Taliban efforts to influence and control areas of the country as part of a long-term strategy of waiting for the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces.
The U.S. strategy has been to equip and train both Afghan military and police and security forces to take control of the underdeveloped state that has been a battleground between state powers and tribes for decades.
One recent example was the announcement on Afghan media June 2 that villagers in the Tarinkot District of Uruzgan Province that the Taliban were no longer allowed into the town.
"The village elders got together and decided that the IED problem was killing too many of their people and it was time to end the Taliban visitors in their village," Simons said.
Earlier, several Taliban bombs had killed local civilians. Some 70 local elders gathered and denounced the Taliban in response and said they were no longer welcome into the area.
In a second case, some 200 young people from two Afghan tribes, the Abdulkhel and the Usmankhel, turned on the Taliban in Achin District in Nangarhar Province after opposing the daily violence committed by the insurgents.
Abdul Khel tribe elder Naim Jan was quoted in local media as saying "we can no longer bear fights and threats posed to us by the rebels."
A third report on Twitter from an Afghan journalist reported June 20 that dozens of villagers turned out to protest against the Taliban and blocked the Kabul-Parwan highway while carrying the body of one of at least four villagers who was killed by the Taliban.
Ghazni provincial officials also claimed recently that since May 2012, 70 percent of Andar District, one of the first locations for the anti-Taliban uprisings, had been cleared of the Islamist fighters.
"Now there is peace in Andar and it is safe," district police chief Mohammad Qasimm told Afghanistan’s Ariana television. Another resident of the town said during the June 20 broadcast that many villages in the province are no longer under Taliban control, adding, "Most of the insurgents that we have fought against were from Pakistan."
In another positive sign, U.S. officials said some of the uprising movements are becoming more formalized, government-sponsored programs.
The central government is supporting the uprisings, but there are some concerns that the uprising groups could bolster Afghanistan’s tribal culture and undermine efforts to unify the country under the central Afghan government in Kabul.
However, the Kabul government is actively promoting the uprisings, using Afghans’ fierce independence and opposition to outside forces, such as the Pakistan-backed Taliban.
In a related development, U.S. officials said Uzbek Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum in recent weeks has been taking steps to consolidate power in northern Afghanistan.
A series of pro-Dostum protests were held against Jowzjan Provincial Gov. Mohammad Alim Sayee, a fellow Uzbek who is allied with Karzai.
The efforts have been viewed by U.S. officials as undermining Afghan government control in the northern part of the country.
Dostum is a notorious warlord who was educated in Russia and was backed by the United States after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Meanwhile, officials in Afghanistan expressed concerns about a New York Times report that said President Barack Obama was considering a complete pullout of U.S. troops by the 2014 deadline.
White House officials did not deny the report.
"There is nothing new to add to our many previous comments on post-2014 options," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, adding that "zero was an option we'd consider."
"We’ve said many times on the record that we've been discussing with Afghans whether to keep troops there for [counterterrorism] and training and that no decision has been made about a post-2014 troop presence," Hayden said in an email.
Afghan presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi stated in response to the July 8 report that "the article in the New York Times is aimed at pressuring the government of Afghanistan and influencing public opinion."
"The total pullout of U.S. troops has not been even mentioned during the bilateral talks [over security pact] as one of the likelihoods," he told Radio Free Europe for Afghanistan.
"The USA has been building military installations in Afghanistan over the past 11 years and works are still continuing on them. These installations have not been built to fight the Taliban but are there for long-term purposes. There are no concerns over this [complete pullout report]."
Afghan opposition figures said the threat of the so-called "zero option" was aimed at pressuring Karzai.
Karzai is suspected of seeking personal concessions from the United States as part of the political transition set for 2014 by slowing efforts to sign a security pact with the United States on a post-2014 military presence.
The Free Beacon first reported on the uprisings in July 2012 as taking root in eight provinces in the northeast and eastern part of the country.
The Taliban is an Islamist group that took over the country in the late 1990s and harbored the al Qaeda terrorist group, which conducted the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States from the country.
The Taliban are known to use ruthless terror tactics to coerce local tribes into supporting its bid for power.
Some of the uprising leaders are working with Afghan security while others are seeking to replace central government police officials with local leaders.
One Logar province uprising leader, Farhad Akbari, is said to be working closely with local police.
"Our uprising is aimed at saving our people from terrorism and from the clutches of Pakistan's ISI [intelligence service]," Akbari was quoted in Afghan national television. "They are all slaves and always martyr our elders, scholars, engineers, and intellectuals. … They martyred seven school girls … so that's enough, and we can no longer tolerate tyranny."