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‘Reintegration’ — it takes a village

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 3, 2012

NISHIGAM, Afghanistan — The U.S. military’s efforts to “reintegrate” Taliban fighters relies in part on a kind of tribal peer pressure.

The strategy seeks to make village elders responsible for an ex-militant’s actions after his release. U.S. commanders ask the elders to apply communal pressure to deter him from rejoining the insurgency and, more broadly, to create the impression of a village unafraid to defy the Taliban.

“With the elders involved, you can have a bigger impact,” said Lt. Col. Dan Wilson, commander of 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment. “It shows there’s more than one person in the village who doesn’t want the Taliban there.”

The reintegration program has drawn limited interest across Afghanistan — largely because of fears of Taliban retaliation against former insurgents — while yielding mixed results. In some areas, “reformed” fighters have exploited their new status as coalition allies to tax villagers or extract payment under the guise of offering protection from the Taliban.

U.S. military leaders attempt to avert those problems by prodding elders to act as de facto chaperones. Wilson discussed the approach last month with a tribal elder from the Ghaziabad district of northern Kunar province.

The man, who asked not to be named, had intense brown eyes and an angular face softened by an oyster-gray beard. He had traveled more than two hours over rough dirt roads for the meeting at the Nishigam government center. He took only a few seconds to explain his reason for coming.

“We would like Zareef to be released,” he said. “We do not think the military should be holding him.”

Wilson knew the name. Coalition soldiers detained the insurgent in October after finding him with a large stash of automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

“Before we can do anything,” Wilson said, “we need you and the rest of the elders in your tribe to be willing to be accountable for him.”

They arranged to talk further the next day at Forward Operating Base Bostick, about 15 miles north of Nishigam, where the 2-27 is stationed. The man arrived with a band of elders to meet with Wilson and area commanders of the Afghan military and police.

The group reached an agreement several hours later. The insurgent was to be freed in late December, after a public ceremony in which he and the tribal elders announced their intent to work with coalition forces in defeating the Taliban.

The looming question is whether he — and they — will show the same resolve in private.

— Martin Kuz

kuzm@estripes.osd.mil

Twitter: @martinkuz

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