KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- A former insurgent commander swore allegiance to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan April 14 in Asadabad, agreeing to turn in his weapons and cease hostilities against Afghan and Coalition forces.
As Coalition forces have been hunting near the Afghan-Pakistani border for insurgent leaders, Najmuddin turned himself in to India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, abandoning his run as one of the more elusive insurgent leaders. They were informed by a message received the morning of April 10 explaining where the commander was located and his intent. The India Company leadership quickly moved to the designated location and, crossing over a bridge into the compound, finally came face-to-face with the man they were able to recognize only from an outdated photograph. He has been allowed to participate in the Allegiance Program, a program currently offered to Taliban and HIG (Hezb-E Islami Gulbuddin) fighters who wish to stop fighting and start participating in the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
“We’ve been working on this guy for a long time,” said 1st Lt. Justin Bellman, India Co. Executive Officer. “It was just a matter of time before either we captured him, killed him or he turned himself in. He made the right decision and we’re going to hope that he becomes a positive force in his community.”
A ceremony which was attended by nearly 300 civic and religious leaders from across the Kunar province was the first step in the process of repatriation for Najmuddin who explained his reasons for turning himself over to the Marines through an interpreter.
“I am tired of running,” said the former insurgent. “I realized that my community was suffering because of [our] attacks on the Coalition and I did not want that any more.”
His participation in the Allegiance Program comes on the heels of extensive duration operations around the areas Najmuddin was known to frequent in the Pech Valley. Aggressively approaching the detention of insurgent leadership in the area afforded Marines the success that had eluded other units.
“This individual orchestrated several attacks against Coalition forces before we got here and began to conduct attacks against us in Nagalam from the moment we arrived. It did not take us long to let him know that we were not going to sit back and take that,” said Lt. Col. Norm Cooling, commanding officer, America’s Battalion, continuing, “Instead we took the fight to his backyard, to the difficult, cold and mountainous terrain of the Korangal Valley – a place where roads do not take you and a place where Coalition forces had not gone for any length of time before.”
The Marines of India Company, once tasked with eliminating the threat Najmuddin posed to stability in the area, applied constant pressure to him for two and a half months.
“In that time, he didn’t have time to conduct attacks against our installations,” said Cooling. “He was too busy trying to survive and he finally got tired of it.”
While he said the constant presence of well-trained Marines was the ultimate reason he turned himself in, it was also the humanitarian outreach and rehabilitation projects in his area that Marines participated in that convinced the former insurgent leader to come forth.
Bellman, who spoke with Najmuddin, said he expressed happiness with many of the good things he saw the Marines doing in the Pech Valley and that he knew his area was improving because of the Afghan and Coalition forces.
Najmuddin was greeted warmly by everyone in attendance at the shura (a meeting of Afghan elders, religious leaders and government officials) which coincided with the ceremony. Both he and the community leaders present expressed a sincere desire for peace. After giving a short speech, he was sworn to uphold his end of the agreement by the governor of Kunar. Capt. Jim Sweeney, India Co. Commander was present for the ceremony and signed the official document as a witness.
“He has sworn to cooperate with the government,” said Sweeney, “Once he’s in the program, he has to meet with community leaders, elders and Coalition forces on a regular basis to check in.”
The governor of Kunar, Asadollah Wafa, said the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan hopes the program will put an end to local insurgencies and further drive a wedge between Afghans and the foreign-national terrorists who have been operating in Afghanistan. By accepting former insurgent “middlemen” like Najmuddin, he hopes that the money and support that keeps the insurgency alive in eastern Afghanistan will dry up.
The Allegiance Program is an effort to bring many formerly prominent Afghans back into the fold of the new government, he said. As long as an individual has committed no crimes against humanity, he may get a second chance at citizenship.
“Everyone is happy that he finally turned himself in. The community supports his decision to do so, and I think that will make a big difference in how some other Taliban fighters react to us,” said Sweeney.
“A lot of people want to come forward,” said Najmuddin. “They are scared because they’re not sure what will happen once they come forward. Once they see how well I have been treated, they will decide to turn themselves in.”
Sweeney also expressed hope that Najmuddin is only the first in a line of insurgents who will decide to lay down their arms and cooperate with the Afghan government. To facilitate that, America’s Battalion will continue its aggressive operations throughout Afghanistan’s eastern region.