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Crime, casualties undermine US gains on Afghan battlefield

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U.S. Army soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment take up positions while Afghan soldiers search motorists, during a joint U.S.-Afghan military patrol in a village in Arghandab Valley in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan.

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04th-Dec-2017       
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Reuters, Kunduz :
Since U.S. forces began stepping up air strikes against the Taliban, Kunduz shopkeeper Najibullah no longer fears another insurgent takeover of the northern Afghan city. But he does fear robbery or kidnap by militia gangs.
With Afghan forces improving and on the offensive, U.S. commanders have more freedom to attack the Taliban and insurgents no longer threaten any major urban centers.
Although Taliban-controlled areas begin within a 10-minute drive of the city, Kunduz - a strategic hub that fell twice in the past two years - is largely calm. But there is a long way to go to build confidence in daily security.
"In the past people were afraid that the Taliban would come but no-one talks about that now," said Najibullah, who like many Afghans, uses only one name. "Now we have internal problems," he said, leaning over the counter of his shop in the city center and talking softly to avoid being overheard. "There are gunmen that do anything they want. There are people in this city, if they know you have money they'll come to your shop and rob you in broad daylight."
Outside the city, where the Taliban still hold sway, the risk of being caught between helicopter gunships and the insurgents or swept up in a clearing operation means life is also more difficult for villagers on the front line.
Last month, locals say 16 people were killed by U.S. helicopters in a night raid near the villages of Qatl-e Am and Gharow Qushlaq in Chahardara district, an area largely controlled by the Taliban. A U.S. investigation concluded there was no evidence any civilians were killed. "Since the Americans announced their new strategy and signed the new agreement, the situation has been getting worse," said Atiqullah, a villager who said he was about three kilometers away when the raid took place.
The shift in perceptions on the ground suggests ordinary Afghans are seeing the fresh strategy is hitting the insurgents. But their new fears underline how much more is needed to build trust in the Western-backed government.
"I'm a businessman but I can't go anywhere without a gun," said Jamal Nasir Aymaq, who owns a number of bakeries in the city. "Our businessmen and rich people have already escaped Kunduz and children are not safe."
Kidnapping and robbery are rife and there is little confidence of justice from a government many see as deeply implicated in abuses by rogue militia "commanders" who operate with impunity.
"We all know peace cannot be achieved by force alone, it needs development and the economy," said Kunduz police chief Abdul Hameed Hameedi. "Security is much better than last year but we haven't got what people are expecting yet."
Kunduz Governor Asadullah Omarkhil dismissed talk of any official collusion in kidnapping as "baseless", but while many people fear the Taliban, many also feel they are more honest and efficient than city officials.
"If there were a real government in the center of Kunduz, people wouldn't be going to the Taliban for legal decisions," said Mawlawi Khosh Mohammad Nasratyar, a member of the Kunduz provincial council. "Now, even people from the center of Kunduz go to the Taliban to settle legal cases."

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