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Living With The War In Helmand

For beleaguered Afghan civilians life in a remote Afghan frontline goes on despite threats of insurgent attacks and daily battles between government forces and the Taliban.

NAD-E ALI, Afghanistan -- The first impression after arriving in Nad-e Ali is unexpected. Still an active frontline, this remote agricultural district in one of Afghanistan's most dangerous provinces is surprisingly calm as life carries on under the shadow of war.

Most shops in Nad-e Ali's dusty district center are open, and farmers can be seen tending their fields along the five-kilometer dust road that connects Nad-e Ali's town to Shin Kalai -- Pashto for Green Village -- that now serves as the frontline between government forces and the Taliban.

Nad-e Ali is one of the 15 districts in Helmand. This rural province, Afghanistan's largest, has been the scene of some of the most ferocious fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan army and the police.

The insurgents now control or contest 11 of Helmand districts and are pushing to control the large region, which borders Pakistan and is located close to Iran. Helmand produces most of the world’s opium and heroin, and the Taliban also view it as their vital recruiting ground.

Nad-e Ali's residents, however, have tried to adapt to life amid frequent violence. While fighting rages in the distance, some 50 residents of the Shin Kalai are trying to mend the potholes on the dirt track to their village.

Haji Amir Hamza, a village elder, says the security situation has recently improved after Afghan forces pushed the Taliban out of their village.

"Even though we are only 200 meters away from the frontline, we are not afraid, and we feel secure," he said. "It will be much better if the insurgents can be chased farther away from population centers."

Murad Khan, another villager, says they now feel safe enough to work in their fields. "The people here are friends with the government, and our local officials are our friends," he said.

Government soldiers, however, seem on edge while moving around Nad-e Ali in their armored vehicles. District police chief Umar Jan Haqmal says that ensuring steady supplies and timely reinforcement will guarantee his men can hold their positions.

He points to a white Taliban flags flying over a maze of mud houses in the distance to show how close their enemy is.

"Our biggest achievement is that we are holding out with the help of the people of Nad-e Ali," he said. "It won't be wrong to claim that the people of Nad-e Ali are fighting shoulder to shoulder with us."

Despite such bravado, dangers are always lurking in the region. During our daylong trip on March 13, local Afghan intelligence officials discovered a motorcycle rigged with explosives. It was concealed on the edge of the town market to target an evening police patrol.

According to local estimates, more than 200 soldiers and civilians have been killed in Nad-e Ali since the Taliban launched a major offensive last spring.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Mohammad Ilyas Dayee's reporting from Nad-e Ali, Helmand.


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