PAKTIKA, Afghanistan — “I feel like the Taliban,” Sergeant First Class Herring says. It’s late January in Marzak, a village in remote northeastern Paktika province, near the border with Pakistan. Herring, a 38-year-old U.S. Army Military Policeman with a nasally Mississippi twang, is leading a patrol of U.S. and Afghan soldiers and Afghan police on a mission that makes the Americans decidedly uncomfortable.
Their job: to assist the Afghan troops in doing whatever it takes to get the elders of Marzak, a once pro-Taliban village that lies astride a key extremist supply route, to “volunteer” another 25 young men to staff a new Afghan Local Police force that the International Security Assistance Force hopes will permanently secure the town and the supply route.
Herring tries the proverbial carrots, first. He mentions the monthly, $225 paychecks the ALP earn, and the weapons, ammo and supplies they get from the Afghan Ministry of Interior. He promises investment from Kabul if the police unit gets enough volunteers. He warns against the coming spring, when the snows will melt and the Taliban, recently pushed out of the area by U.S. Special Forces raids, will come streaming back into Marzak.
And he reminds village residents of the all the abuses the foreign-born Taliban heaped on them over the years: beatings, theft, extortion, banning music and dancing and, in August, murdering a local man suspected of being a spy for the Americans. (He wasn’t.)