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Afghanistan, February 2013: Anti-Taliban Militias

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Recently, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai ordered U.S. forces to leave Wardak province, partly in response to U.S.-funded militias in the region accused of "torturing, harassing, and murdering" ordinary civilians. The U.S. has been training and funding tribal militias in Afghanistan for years, hoping to emulate the success of a similar strategy in Iraq. Journalist Vikram Singh has been been tracking these militias across Afghanistan over the last few months and says that "the accusations of torture and murder come as little surprise. ... In my visits to different zones where militias are active, I've seen their leaders operate as quasi-warlords. Instances of abuse are common and well documented. In provinces like Kunduz, there are districts with no government unit strong enough to challenge the militia's authority." In this essay, Singh focused on two different militia groups. One is in Logar Province, set up by a construction company owner angry at the killing of his mother by the Taliban in 2012. The second group operates in the northeastern province of Kunduz, where it chased the Taliban away almost three years ago but did not disband afterward. The militia's leader, an ex-mujahideen called Nabi Gecchi, has now started taxing the local population to finance its operations. Singh, a journalist based in Kabul, is a part of Babel Press. [16 photos]

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Farzad Akbari, the 12-year-old son of anti-Taliban militia commander Farhad Akbari, in Afghanistan's volatile Logar province, host to a large number of armed groups and Taliban crossing over from Pakistan. Farzad's father is grooming him to take control of the militia should he be killed. "The danger (of the Taliban) is real and it's important I understand how the world works," says Farzad. (© Vikram Singh)
Farzad Akbari, the 12-year-old son of anti-Taliban militia commander Farhad Akbari, in Afghanistan's volatile Logar province, host to a large number of armed groups and Taliban crossing over from Pakistan. Farzad's father is grooming him to take control of the militia should he be killed. "The danger (of the Taliban) is real and it's important I understand how the world works," says Farzad. (© Vikram Singh)
In Kunduz province, Said Mohammad, a father of two, dismissed the idea that the militia would eventually disband. "I have a family to feed and this is my job. What else will I do? Besides, if we don't protect this area, the Taliban will come back and kill us." (© Vikram Singh) #
Two men wrestle at a Turkmen wedding in Qala-e-Zal Kunduz province, where militia commander Nabi Gecchi was invited as a guest of honor. (© Vikram Singh) #
Commander Nabi addresses some of his men inside one of his fortified compounds. He currently has 300 armed fighters, who were paid a $150 stipend by the local German base until October, 2012 as part of the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) program. (© Vikram Singh) #
Some of the younger militia members, all below the age of 20, take time off from guard duty in a small room next to a check-post. The boys normally watch videos of Bollywood songs and comedy skits in Dari on their phones. (© Vikram Singh) #
Two militia members on patrol in Kunduz province. After NATO funding stopped, the men, their vehicles and supplies have been paid for by local tribal leaders and through taxes collected from the district's residents. (© Vikram Singh) #
Some of Nabi Gecchi's fighters on patrol through a part of Qula-e-Zal district. Visible in the background is one of the 50 fixed check-posts that Nabi has established to consolidate his control over the area and to ensure fortified fighting positions for his men." (© Vikram Singh) #
Rahim, a member of the militia, keeps guard on the perimeter of a compound where a Tajik wedding is taking place. The militia is sometimes deployed to provide security for large gatherings and events in the area. (© Vikram Singh) #
Commander Nabi Gecchi waits outside a police station with his men for a meeting with the police. There are around 30 regular policemen in the district, and the one we met said, "If there are any problems, we immediately call Commander Nabi's men. There aren't enough of us to take on the Taliban." (© Vikram Singh) #
In Loghar province, the roads of Kalangar district, where commander Farhad Akbari's men operate, patrolled by militiamen. The nearby American base not only tolerates the presence of the militia, but is also believed to be paying around 60 of the men. (© Vikram Singh) #
Farhad says he's spent nearly $160,000 of his own money so far to keep the militia running. The 200 men fighting for him provide security to a cluster of more than 70 villages. The fighters travel in bands from village to village. (© Vikram Singh) #
A member of Farhad's militia watches as schoolgirls return home. Seven girls were killed by the Taliban in Loghar for going to school, according to Farhad. Now, one of the militia's main functions is ensuring schools in the area remain open. (© Vikram Singh) #
Said Nisan, an ex-mujahideen and a senior member of Farhad's militia, says, "My knee was blown out in a fight with some Pakistani members of the Taliban. It's pretty badly injured but at least we killed two of their guys." He is planning to travel to India for surgery. (© Vikram Singh) #
Commader Said shows some of the younger recruits of the militia how to use a rocket launcher. Most of the arms used by the militia are leftovers from the war with the Soviet Union. "The Russians were generous. We've been able to keep on fighting with the gifts they left behind", says Farhad. (© Vikram Singh) #
One of the militia's youngest members is 15 year old Jan Gulab (right). He says, "It's better for us to become fighters than to just to wait around and be killed by the Talibs." (© Vikram Singh) #
Farhad Akbari, with his 12-year old son Farzad, by his side, addresses his men. "It's important that the fight against the Taliban continues, no matter what. I have ten children. If I am killed, there are ten more Farhads ready to take over". (© Vikram Singh) #

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