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In Tangled Afghan War, a Thin Line of Defense Against ISIS

“The reason they are fighting each other is over resources, and over territory,” said Mohammed Gulab Mangal, the governor of Nangarhar Province, who says both groups “drink from the same spring” — a subtle reference to their perceived Pakistani origins.

People in Khogyani say the Islamic State militants are better armed and fight harder than the Taliban.

“If you tie a Taliban fighter to the trunk of this tree, and then you tell him ISIS is coming, he will run so hard that he will uproot the tree with him,” said Malik Makee, a tribal elder who runs a militia of several dozen men in support of the government, helping to maintain a buffer around the district center.

Mr. Makee is an example of how fluid alliances can be here. He lived under Taliban rule for years, without much problem, until they killed one of his sons. He retaliated by killing six Taliban, and then packing up to join the government.

Mr. Makee — who admits to growing opium, as many in the district do — is one of the three men running the war in Khogyani on behalf of the government. All three are veterans of many previous conflicts.

The busiest of them these days is a potbellied intelligence operative in his 50s who is trying to peel away Taliban commanders and foot soldiers fleeing the Islamic State. His agents make a simple argument to potential defectors: You have no escape from the Islamic State, so come to us for protection. About three dozen have.

On a recent afternoon, the operative completed a deal with two Taliban over tea and raisins in a dark room of the district compound. The men, both of whom fought the government for six years, were disarmed of a rocket-propelled grenade, a Kalashinkov and a pistol.

When the operative asked if the two Taliban had government IDs, they pulled them out, neatly wrapped in plastic sheets. Asked how they had obtained the documents, one of the men, who gave his name as Zabihullah Ghorzang, replied:

“My uncle was the district governor here.”

Putting his hand on Mr. Ghorzang’s knee, the operative said the men’s decision to join the government’s side was patriotic. The government had forgiven their wrongdoings. The deal complete, Mr. Ghorzang was given back his pistol.

Source: NYT > World

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