LAME, toothless and 80 years old, Haji Beardad is not exactly imposing. Yet the American soldiers in the northern Arghandab valley in Kandahar province court him assiduously, promising a school and a mosque for his village of Kuhak. For Haji Beardad, frail as he looks, is an important ally. Since he told the Americans that his people would co-operate with Afghan security forces and keep watch for outsiders, attacks in Kuhak have dropped sharply. “I’ve told everybody in the village to report if someone comes to visit or we’ll have him arrested,” he says.
Nagahan, a village west of Kuhak, even has a local militia to keep the Taliban out, in exchange for American promises of development—and sometimes plain cash. “We’re paying them off,” says Captain David Ahern of Alpha company, 1st battalion, 66th armoured regiment. Violence in Nagahan has also dropped sharply.