Guns and phones. Taliban soldiers at a checkpoint on entering Afghanistan from Uzbekistan.
Our cars started to slow. In front were young men in camouflage jackets, long hair, beards, AK47s, shalwar kameez and sandals—so far, so Taliban. Would they be hostile? We were only a few miles from Uzbekistan which felt safer somehow, because we were western? They saw the white faces of the crew, asked if they could have selfies. Why not? We could have said no. They had asked, not ordered. The journalists wanted to learn about the country, so we guessed this was a good place to start. We pulled over to the side, some of the Taliban stayed on duty but most wanted pictures with the foreigners. Their commander was a serious man with a modern M16, the long black rifle you’ll associate with American soldiers. With him you had to ask serious questions like how he saw the threat from ISIS. With the young boys there were no questions just selfies.
I don’t know how much fighting these young men had done. The Taliban don’t give the young ones guns. Some were in their twenties so all they knew was they were born into a country that as at war, and the white and black people they saw in their streets were Americans and Brits, fighting against them. The Taliban are largely Pashtun, from east and southern Afghanistan. In those areas they saw foreign soldiers in the day, and at night they heard helicopters and the explosive entry into their houses and watched their dads, brothers dragged away as the war after 9/11 got confused, it started with Osama bin Laden, then Al Qaeda, but got more ambitious and went after the Taliban all the way to trying to bring democracy to a country which for its history had been conservative and rural for the majority and urban for a tiny minority. Easy to say with hindsight those at the top say, those on the ground had been saying this for years. The Taliban do come from other areas too. They are Afghans not aliens to the country.