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NYT: Which Way Did the Taliban Go?

Author: Luke Mogelson
January 17, 2013

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"After a week with Lt. Col. Mohammad Daowood's battalion, 'what I found is that the [Afghan National Army] looks very different when there are no Americans around.'"

The village was abandoned. Streets deserted. Houses empty. Behind the central mosque rose a steep escarpment. Behind the escarpment mountains upon mountains. Up there — above the timberline, among the peaks — a white Taliban flag whipped in the wind. Several Afghan soldiers were admiring it when a stunted and contorted person emerged from an alley. Dressed in rags, he waved a hennaed fist at them and wailed. Tears streamed down his face. Most of the soldiers ignored him. Some laughed uncomfortably. A few jabbed their rifles at his chest and simulated shooting. The man carried on undeterred — reproaching them in strange tongues.

A truck pulled up, and Lt. Col. Mohammad Daowood, the battalion commander, stepped out. Everyone waited to see what he would do. Daowood is a man alive to his environment and adept at adjusting his behavior by severe or subtle degrees. He can transform, instantaneously, from empathetic ally to vicious disciplinarian. To be with him is to be in constant suspense over the direction of his mood. At the same time, there is a calculation to his temper. You feel it is always deliberately, never capriciously, employed. This only adds to his authority and makes it impossible to imagine him in a situation of which he is not the master. A flicker of recognition in the deranged man's eyes suggested that he intuited this. He approached Daowood almost bashfully; only as he closed within striking range did he seem to regain his lunatic energy, emitting a low, threatening moan. We waited for Daowood to hit him. Instead, Daowood began to clap and sing. Instantly, the man's face reorganized itself. Tearful indignation became pure, childish joy. He started to dance.

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