One year after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, American-led coalition forces continue to hunt elusive al-Qaida and Taleban fighters across wide areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan. The fighting is largely unseen, carried out at night in remote mountain passes and mud-walled villages along Afghanistan's porous border with Pakistan. One area where U.S. troops recently conducted an operation offers an illustration of just how difficult it can be to fight an unseen enemy.
Local workmen are rebuilding a wall around Haji Jalad's house. When they finish his wall they will fix his gate, repair his broken windows and plaster over hundreds of large bullet holes that pepper the walls of his massive mud-walled family compound.
On the night of August 1, U.S. troops landed in helicopters just outside Haji Jalad's compound, near the town of Zurmatt, in Afghanistan's Paktia province, about 150 kilometers south of Kabul. They were looking for a senior Taleban or al-Qaida leader. Haji Jalad, a prosperous local farmer, says he and his son went to the gate to talk to the Americans but, he says, the U.S. troops were not interested in talking. He said the troops bundled him, his son, nephew and two other local men into a helicopter and flew all five to the coalition base at Bagram, where hundreds of Taleban and al-Qaida suspects are held in detention.
The Americans, he said, spent three hours in his compound, terrifying his family as they searched under beds and through old chests looking for guns and al-Qaida and Taleban suspects. He says a laborer sleeping in a nearby field was killed by helicopter gunfire, and a woman in his compound suffered a miscarriage from shock during the operation.
Twenty-six days after he was seized, Haji Jalad, his son and his nephew were released. Two other men seized that night are still in detention. Sitting on an ancient carpet and sharing a meal with visiting journalists. Haji Jalad swore he has had no contact with Taleban or al-Qaida fighters. He said, like many others, he welcomed the American presence in Paktia province. But he said if raids like the one against his house continue, locals will turn against the Americans.
Haji Jalad blames his enemies for the raid. He said people who are against him gave false information to the Americans, and that is why they came to his house late at night.
Haji Jalad's compound sits in the shadows of dusty mountains where B-52s carried out heavy bombing raids earlier this year against Taleban and al-Qaida fighters. But Haji Jalad and many others in Zurmatt say all Taleban and al-Qaida fighters have now left the area and have moved to nearby Pakistan.
U.S. Army Colonel Roger King, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces, says Haji Jalad is wrong. Colonel King said Taleban and al-Qaida fighters are still to found in and around Zurmatt.
"Zurmatt: I believe there are some people who have been trying to find sanctuary in that area, and they are people we want," said the colonel. "We went in, and we tried to find them. I think we had some information that led us to believe that. I do not know if the security situation in Zurmatt is necessarily bad. A person who is a bad person who we want to go look for could well be living in a relatively peaceful place that is OK that happens it does not mean that we still don't want him."
As for the raid against Haji Jalad's house, Colonel King says the U.S. military has no information about anyone dying during the operation as Haji Jalad claims. He says American forces prepare carefully before launching raids against any locations where civilians might be present.
"We have a lot of different kinds of intelligence: human intelligence, which is you telling that guy is bad," he explained. "Signal intelligence, which could be radio telephone whatever. Electronic intelligence which is normally tied to computer type stuff. Technical intelligence which comes from a variety of different places. All those things work together and we try to ensure that we have a meeting of these meeting of these different types of intelligence in a specific point in time and space that gives us something that is actionable."
Colonel King says in the Zurmatt case, two men remain detained and while he will not comment as to why, he says anyone who is detained is held for a reason. As for Haji Jalad, he says when the Americans realized that he was not involved with the Taleban or al-Qaida, they apologized.
Haji Jalad says he accepts the apology and holds no grudges. He says he hopes the American troops stay in Afghanistan for the time being. Without the Americans, he says there will be no security for Afghans.