It was around 01:30 AM, after mid-night when army forces knocked on Hashmat’s door and then entered his house while his family members were fallen asleep in Hess-e-Awal Behsud district of Maidan Wardak province. Hashmat, who is 62 years old and a tribal elder in Seyah Buta village of the district, complains that the Afghan defense and security forces search the houses of the locals without any advance notice in pursuit of commander Alipoor and his fighters.
Though the authorities do not provide a specific figure about the number of the deployed forces in Behsud, locals claim that nearly 1,000 Afghan defense and security forces are currently stationed in the district who are equipped with light and heavy weapons, inter alia with more than 100 military vehicles. Such a heavy military presence is unprecedented in Behsud and it has left the locals in panic.
“It was around 01:30 AM in the night when they forcefully knocked on our door. They ordered me to get out without introducing themselves and telling me that they were searching the house. They body-searched me and then searched the house. When they got out, I realized that they have also searched other houses,” said Arbab Hashmat. “They have terrorized the people.”
Moreover, some local residents complain that the dispatched security forces have terrorized people to an extent that some of them have fled their homes.
Abdullah, who is a resident of Langar village in the district, told Kabul Now via phone that more than 30 military vehicles laden with armed forces were on their way to a small village named Nalasang earlier in the morning on Wednesday, March 24. He said that they have been conducting search operations in houses since two days ago. “The government has created panic. The people are terrorized by the military forces. This is why most of the people have decided to flee,” he said.
The situation descended into a war-like field in Behsud after security forces under the command of Allahdad Fedaee opened fire on a peaceful protest rally late in January, killing 11 civilians and wounding 31 others. These security forces remained under siege by Alipoor militiamen for around a month. Sporadic clashes erupted between the two sides, as per the account of the local residents, resulting in casualties on both sides.
On March 18, an army helicopter crashed in Behsud district with four crew members and five commandos on board. On March 20, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced that militiamen loyal to Alipoor had shot down the helicopter and Alipoor also confirmed that the chopper was shot down when government forces and his men were engaged in crossfires in the area. It was then followed by revenge-seeking remarks of the government officials, including President Ghani.
Issuing a statement on the same day, the MoD claimed that 12 rebel forces and illegal armed men loyal to Alipoor were killed and six others wounded in operations conducted by the Afghan defense and security forces in the area. The local officials, however, confirmed that a woman was killed and her husband was wounded after Afghan Air Force carried out two airstrikes in Behsud.
Doubts raised over helicopter downing
Later, video footage, apparently taken by another aircraft from above, leaked by TOLONews, suggested that the helicopter was shot down by a “laser-guided weapon.” In a second interview, Alipoor denied having a laser-guided missile. He added that the video suggests the helicopter was hit from above, not by his militiamen.
The video footage came under the spotlight by many social media users. Some accused Alipoor of fighting against the central government, labeling him as an Iranian proxy commander, but his supporters expressed doubt questioning the authenticity of the video footage.
On March 23, TOLONews aired an exclusive interview with Assadullah Saadati, deputy chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, discussing the downing of the army helicopter in Behsud. “The helicopter [downing] is very doubtful and questionable,” he said implying that it was not necessary to send those army forces and helicopters to Behsud while many other districts, including those in President Ghani’s home province, Logar, were on the brink of collapse to the Taliban.
“The revealed footage made it more complicated and raised many questions. Firstly, it seems unlikely for me that the night goggle can record such a video that shows the whole area as in the daylight. Secondly, how someone has tracked and traced with such precision the direction of the helicopter until it is hit [by the missile]?” Saadati questioned. As the third question, he asked that why the missile hit the helicopter from the above, as shown in the footage, while Alipoor and his militia do not own such an advanced weapon.
The government has not, however, addressed these doubtful questions regarding the helicopter crash. Pro-government figures and some officials went further to publicly label Alipoor and his militia as Iran proxy and a branch of the Iran-backed Fatemyioun division.
Posting a photo of Alipoor, Nasrat Rahimi, former spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior, wrote on his Facebook page that the operation against him and his militia must continue until the revenge of those army forces killed in the helicopter downing is taken. “Support this operation [against Alipoor] in order to prevent the propagation of the Fatemiyoun,” he urged his followers on Facebook.
Preparation for displaced people
Last Tuesday, March 23, the Ministry of Defense shared photos of the army forces distributing food materials for the local residents in Behsud. The Ministry said that army forces have distributed food kits, including flour, rice, and cooking oil for hundreds of families in need.
The confrontation between Alipoor militia and government forces has forced a large number of the locals in Behsud to leave their homes. The State Ministry for Disaster Management has not recorded an exact number of displaced people in the district but it has prepared basic food supplies for around 2,000 households in the district.
Food kits, including flour, rice, and cooking oil, were distributed to around 150 families in the district on Tuesday, March 23, said Ahmad Tamim Azimi, spokesperson for the State Ministry for Disaster Management.
Abullah, a local resident, told Kabul Now that some aid packages have been distributed to the locals. He, however, noted that the night raid of the security forces has added to the number of displaced people in the area. “The weather is very cold. Whenever the people hear that security forces are dispatched to their neighboring villages, they flee their homes,” the local resident complained.
Hussain Baligh, a member of Maidan Wardak Provincial Council, also confirmed that the security forces have conducted “arbitrary” night search operations in some areas while they do not have such an order from the commander of the crackdown operation.
But Abdul Rahman Tariq, governor of Maidan Wardak, rejected the house-to-house search operation. He said that security forces conduct operations wherever there is a potential threat. “I can say with confidence that there is not house-to-house search [operation]. Only those areas are searched from where security forces see any threat, or receive information, or hear bullet fire,” the governor added.
No clash reported between the deployed security forces and Alipoor’s fighters for the last four days. Alipoor and his militiamen have reportedly left the area beforehand but the government forces are currently on a mission in the district to arrest the local commander and his militiamen.
Etilaat Roz’s Lutf Ali Sultani has contributed developing this report.