Taliban 'in control' in Helmand
By James Bays, Helmand province, Afghanistan
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2007
Al Jazeera has uncovered evidence that Taliban fighters are now in
effective control of large parts of a key province in southwest
Afghanistan, despite recent claims by Nato that their bases had been
James Bays spent two days with the Taliban in Helmand and found that
the group is running schools and medical facilities, and is travelling
armed and unchallenged by Nato-led forces. Here is his report:
Behind Taliban lines, we travelled with a group of fighters across the
deserts of Helmand province.
These hardened men are well-armed, ready for battle - and they told me
they are ready for martyrdom too.
The journeys are often at break-neck speed – because of the risk of
Nato air strikes.
Nato may be the master the skies - but the Taliban claim that they
control large swathes of territory on the ground.
They took us on a trip - to show us how they operate almost unhindered
in many areas.
The group operates not only in rural areas but also towns such as Sangin.
We filmed along the main street, past the shopping bazaar.
There were Taliban fighters - with weapons - everywhere, and no sign
of Nato or Afghan forces.
We filmed from a car, occupied by heavily armed Taliban fighters, yet
the vehicle drove straight past the compound housing the British
troops based in the town.
The Taliban fighters claim the British are too scared to even leave
The sound of aircraft can be heard - but the fighters are not afraid -
they dismissively call the planes "Bush's kites".
And they claim soon they will soon be using a new anti-aircraft weapons.
One fighter said: "We are not scared of their aircraft - God is with
us. We are not scared of anything."
For a time, there was confusion about our permission to film.
We were detained - and our telephones and camera were taken, but we
were treated extremely well.
Those the Taliban find guilty of a crime are dealt with much more harshly.
This is the body of a man hanged by the Taliban.
They say he was a spy for the Americans - he was carrying an ID card
from the US government development agency USAid.
We were also shown where Nato bombs have fallen.
While we travelled around, there were times when we were not allowed
to film - because the Taliban do not want Nato to see pictures of the
defences inside their villages.
And when The Taliban took us to a mass rally clearly arranged for us
to film, it was somewhat unnerving standing in the desert with such a
large group - over 400 Taliban fighters.
They were even youngsters holding weapons.
Some were no more than 12-years old while others carried their
ammunition in UN food bags.
The district commander showed me all the land he claims is controlled
by his men.
"Out of 100 per cent, the British don't even control one per cent of
Helmand," he said.
He told me the Taliban is not just a military organisation - he said
they have appointed a governor in Helmand and it is now running
medical clinics and madrassas or religious schools.
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