900 Afghans fighters quit Taliban for NATO program

Taliban militants pose for the media after they join the Afghan government in Herat, May 22, 2010.

From Deb Riechmann, the AP:  Despite Taliban threats against their lives, nearly 900 militants have quit the fight and enrolled in an Afghan government program luring insurgents off the battlefield, a NATO official said Monday.

The months-old reintegration program, which attracts fighters with promises of jobs, literacy and vocational training plus development aid for their villages, is slowly gaining acceptance but faces serious challenges, said Maj. Gen. Phil Jones, who tracks the reintegration effort at NATO headquarters in Kabul.

The Taliban has retaliated against some insurgents trying to switch sides in northern Afghanistan, Jones said. Some local Afghan leaders also remain unclear about the details of the program and many question whether those who align themselves with the government can be protected.

There was a four-hour fight on Friday between the Taliban and insurgents trying to lay down their arms in Sar-e-Pul province. After 112 armed men joined the government recently in neighboring Jawzjan province, the Taliban burned some of their homes. Last fall, a dozen militants trying to reintegrate were killed by the Taliban in Baghlan province. …

At least 45 other groups of insurgents have expressed interest in the program in two-thirds of the provinces across the nation, including Kandahar and Helmand – two of the Taliban’s historic strongholds, he said.

"As I have traveled the country in the last year, talking to many Afghans, a lot of them said, ‘Look these are fine ideas but we’re really not sure they’re going to work and there is great risk to starting a peace process. What if it fails? Where do we go from there?’"

"Can you provide people with the level of confidence that if they step into this process they will survive and live through it without being harassed, killed or assassinated?" Jones asked. "That’s a real challenge."  (photo: Reuters)

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