Afghans unhappy with new US base on Pakistan border
LWARA: To the United States, Lwara base is a “forward operating site” on the Afghan-Pakistan border in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and leading figures in Al Qaeda and the Taliban. To the local villagers, it is a danger and a nuisance.
Set in a former Taliban stronghold and close to Urgun and Shkin, once described by a US military official as “the most evil place on earth”, Lwara is home to Afghan and US-led coalition troops, as well as US Special Forces.
The base is part of Operation Mountain Storm, designed to capture Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the rugged southeast and complements the Pakistani army’s offensive on the other side of the frontier in the “hammer and anvil” approach announced by the United States.
Afghan National Army and Afghan Militia Forces troops are working alongside the US soldiers to help seal the porous border against what villagers say are frequent incursions by Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
But far from seeing the base and its occupants as protectors, Lwara residents are furious that the US has decided to set up base in their backyards.
Coalition soldiers patrol the area, sometimes searching caves and houses in nearby villages to look for weapons caches and suspects, residents told AFP.
Moreover, they claim the base, which recently came under rocket attack from suspected Taliban militants, also exposes their villages to damage.
“They have built the military base near our village to use the village as a firewall to protect themselves. We don’t want them here,” village elder Naim Khan told AFP.
“A rocket originally targetting Americans missed the base and hit a civilian house and badly injured two young girls,” Khan added.
Remote and without basic healthcare or educational facilities, Lwara is incapable of dealing with casualties of this kind of violence.
According to villagers, the injured girls were taken to the US base for treatment but when the girls’ families were told they would be flown to Kabul’s Bagram Air Base for further medical attention and their relatives would not be able to accompany them, the offer of further treatment was refused.
Under the traditional and hardline Islamic laws of tribal areas like Lwara, two Muslim girls should not be left in the company of any men who are not close relatives.
The relatives decided to take the two girls overland to Miran Shah in Pakistan for treatment.
“One of the girls passed away on the way to Miran Shah and the other survived,” villager Gul Mohammed said.
The newly-established base, is on the Pakistan border about 30 kilometres (18 miles) east of the town of Urgun, and is believed to be the fourth US base in Paktika province after Shkin, Urgun and Sharan.
“We arrived at this camp 23 days ago,” Mohammed Qasim Khan, an Afghan soldier at Lwara base told AFP.
However, before he could say anything further he was interrupted by a US soldier who told him to stop speaking. The American, whose surname was Mark according to his uniform and who also refused to speak, told the soldier he was not authorized to give interviews.
A border commander with the Afghan Militia Forces has previously told AFP that there were 100 US and 900 Afghan soldiers at the base, and that they were planning a “major operation”.
The US has admitted they have stepped up surveillance on the border but have refused to reveal details for security reasons.
America leads a 13,500-strong coalition force in Afghanistan hunting Taliban, Al Qaeda and other insurgents, and will send extra US Marines to the country to help beef up security, defense department officials said Thursday.
For almost two weeks, a military operation has been going on in Pakistan’s tribal South Waziristan, just 70 kilometres south of Lwara.
It is believed that Taliban insurgents are hiding in rugged mountains and fortified caves left over from the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. —AFP