THE GIZAB GOOD GUYS…. I’m generally skeptical of good news out of Afghanistan, in large part because it tends to be fleeting. But Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s front-page piece in the Washington Post today was not only heartening, it has the potential of being important.
U.S. and Afghan officials were doubtful they’d ever see local rise up on their own to take back areas from Taliban control. But that’s what happened in the small Southern town of Gizab, which one U.S. commander called “perhaps the most important thing that has happened in southern Afghanistan this year.”
The revolt of the Gizab Good Guys began with a clandestine 2 a.m. meeting. By sunrise, 15 angry villagers had set up checkpoints on the main road and captured their first prisoners. In the following hours, their ranks swelled with dozens of rifle-toting neighbors eager to join.
Gunfights erupted and a panicked request for help was sent to the nearest U.S. troops, but the residents of this mountain-ringed hamlet in southern Afghanistan held their ground. By sundown, they managed to pull off a most unusual feat: They kicked out the Taliban.
“We had enough of their oppression,” Lalay, the one-named shopkeeper who organized the uprising, said in recounting the late April battle. “So we decided to fight back.”
U.S. diplomats and military officials view the rebellion as a milestone in the nearly nine-year-long war. For the first time in this phase of the conflict, ordinary Afghans in the violence-racked south have risen on their own to reclaim territory under insurgent control.
Rachel Maddow noted today, “If this isn’t an outlier, this is a big strategic deal for the US in Afghanistan.” Military and civilian leaders seem to agree, and are closely studying the developments in the hopes that they can be duplicated.
At first blush, the motivating force seems to have been locals getting sick of the Taliban. In recent months, Taliban fighters “commandeered the health clinic, destroyed the school and started seizing trucks along the road, often to steal cargo or levy taxes.” So, locals took their town back.
It’s not the kind of defeat that will turn the tide of a war, but Taliban commanders were reportedly taken aback by the setback — holding onto Gizab was not supposed to be a problem for insurgents — and “residents of neighboring towns have told Gizab elders that they also want to rise against the insurgents.”
That’s the good news. The bad news is Afghanistan is still Afghanistan — the Gizab Good Guys are now looking to the Afghan government for resources to maintain the peace, keep the Taliban at bay, and funding and equipment for the local forces. Locals have been unimpressed to date, and reportedly “impatient” with progress.