“I’m going to put a black bag over your head and you’re never going to see your family again.”
ZHARI, Kandahar province: The biggest military operation of the year has driven the majority of Taliban fighters out of the organisation’s birthplace, according to US-led forces.
One month after Dragon Strike began, soldiers of the US 101st Airborne Division say attacks in Zhari district in Kandahar province are down by two-thirds and Taliban threats that kept residents wary of the Americans have largely ended.
Each day 350 men and children queue in the town of Senjaray to work for the US.
Residents have begun to tell the Americans where bombs are planted, and soldiers patrol unopposed where two months ago they faced certain ambush.
Most insurgent fighters have fled south or melted away during the joint US-Afghan operation.
But while their remnants may only be a handful of grenade-throwing teenagers, they are enough to jeopardise progress.
The soldiers and the district governor, Karim Jan, said they were frustrated with the reluctance of residents to turn in or drive out the culprits.
The governor decided to act after the Taliban mounted two grenade attacks against American patrols on consecutive days.
As helicopters buzzed overhead, Afghan policemen backed by US soldiers seized shopkeepers and passers-by at random and bound their hands.
A procession of captives trailed the patrol as it filed through Senjaray’s alleyways. A loud speaker used by a US psychological operations team blasted out the message: ”The people of Zhari will now be held responsible for the cowardly actions of the enemy.”
Women wailed as a family member was hauled off and children cried as their neighbours’ door was kicked in.
The governor then addressed the detainees: ”This is the last time,” he told the men, pacing before them smoking a cigarette. ”If I see anybody supporting those bastards, giving them food or water, I’m going to arrest everyone in the whole town.”
After Mr Jan’s lecture, Captain Nick Stout added his own warning: ”I don’t care who you are, if there’s a grenade goes off and I see you around, I’m going to put a black bag over your head and you’re never going to see your family again.”
Mr Jan questioned his captives then cut their bindings or sent them blindfolded to a police truck. Six strangers to the town were driven to the police station and 22 people were released.
That afternoon, at a meeting of village elders, Captain Stout repeated his plea to residents to stop sitting on the fence.
The elders appealed for another week to talk to the people. That afternoon, the Afghan army spotted a suspected grenade thrower and arrested him. The next day an informant directed the Americans to a shop where another suspected attacker was detained.