News: Afghan police commander held captive, returns to fight insurgents
Story by Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes
MARJAH DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan — In the late 1990s when the Taliban seized Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul, the country was plagued with territorial and religious micro wars. The nationalists of Afghanistan, led by General Ahmad Shah Massoud, stood up against their extremist opposition to take back their country. One native of Baghlan province fought along-side his countrymen and was captured, but unlike most who fell into the hands of the Taliban, he lived to tell the story.
Second Lt. Gul Alam, now a commander in the Afghan National Civil Order Police, was one of the Mujahidin, or freedom fighters, under Massoud, who was famed for his leadership during the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s. Alam took up arms at 25 years old when floods of insurgent forces poured into his homeland.
Alam moved with other Mujahidin fighters from Baghlan over the range of snow-peaked mountains to the southeast, to Panjshir province, which was the headquarters and stronghold of the Mujahidin. He and the men with him were holding a forward position to combat the Taliban forces that were quickly spreading throughout the country.
Alam’s commander ordered for him and his men to fall back into a location where they could meet with other fighters to plan for the next enemy’s offensive – a message Alam never received because the batteries in his radio had died.
“Twelve thousand Taliban fighters attacked Panjshir,” said Alam, who is 35 years old.
Alam added he and his fellow Mujahidin fighters were besieged by insurgents while holding their position. Alam and the men with him left their position once surrounded and were able to evade their enemy, making their way to meet with their fellow fighters.
“We went into the mountains and hid our weapons and went to a bazaar in the valley,” said Alam. “The Taliban came to the bazaar and told the people their commander is a big Mullah and wants to meet with them in a building close-by.”
The Mullah did not show when the people came for the meeting, and the crowd of villagers found themselves quickly surrounded by insurgents and arrested.
“In the Koran it says if a man has one gray hair he should be respected because he is wise,” said Alam. “They were beating the elders with rifles and hitting them with cords. The Taliban only have an idea of Islam, but they are not Muslim people.”
Alam said he was one of 100 men from his village taken captive, but the insurgents let the women and children go free. All the prisoners were tortured and beaten for information.
“They would hit me on the bottom of my feet. I counted they hit me 70, maybe 80 times, and I closed my eyes,” Alam explained. “I thought they stopped and they were trying to scare me with bigger cables. I opened my eyes, and they were still hitting me, but I could not feel my feet anymore.”
Alam said the insurgents would ask him questions like, “Why are you fighting against us? Why are you fighting with the Mujahidin?” He said he was beaten more than the other prisoners, because he would resist and refuse to answer their questions.
“They hit me a lot compared to other people because when they asked me why I was working for Mujahidin or Massoud, I tell them, ‘I am not working with Massoud; I am just a shop keeper,” said Alam. “Then I told them, ‘You guys are coming from Pakistan to Afghanistan, I have to defend my province and my country.’
“They beat me even more. The Taliban were like animals; they were not like humans,” said Alam as he recalled his treatment. “Death was certain.”
The treatment of Alam and the other prisoners did not stop with the daily beatings and torture. He said the insurgents did not care if he lived or died, but would allow their families to purchase food and water for them, in hopes their imprisoned loved ones would survive the ordeal.
The prisoners were moved several times throughout their captivity, but they were finally placed in Kandahar province. The insurgents eventually began to negotiate with the families for release in exchange for ransom.
“My family would come every three to six months and give the Taliban money. They gave [the Taliban] 12 million Afghani,” said Alam, noting he was not released after several payments. “They again paid 11 million Afghani; then I was released.”
All of the families from Alam’s village followed suit and also paid the 23 million Afghani in ransom, which equates to just over $4,000 in 1997 while the average Afghan family earns only $450 a year. The family members sold their land and livestock to pay off the captors. Alam returned home after 21 months in captivity, only after his family sold off nearly everything they owned.
“They did not think they would ever see me again,” said Alam. “When I came back, no one believed it was me.”
Alam continued to fight against the Taliban after his release. When the Taliban government was ousted by coalition forces in 2001, Alam secured a job under the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with the Ministry of Defense, but the new Afghan government wanted someone with more education in his position than what he had.
Alam still wanted to serve his country and fight against what was left of the insurgency. It was at this point he made the decision to join the Afghan National Civil Order Police. He said he is very proud to work as a commander because ANCOP is a special unit of the Afghan police.
He worked his way up through the ranks and was selected for his current assignment as an ANCOP commander. Alam commands a Tolai, or company, of patrolmen in the Marjah area. His patrolmen stand post in the greater Marjah area to ensure the security of the city’s residents.
“I’m trying to do a good work for my country, and I believe we should help the poor people and those who have been in war,” said Alam. “We are here to help them.”
Alam meets with local government officials in the area and addresses any concerns they may have while creating ways to improve security. He also regularly visits his patrolmen at their various posts around the city.
“He always goes out to the positions checking on his men, making sure they have what they need,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Morris, a Monument, Colo., native and a platoon sergeant with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
Morris often works with Alam as a liaison and teaches Alam’s men how to properly coordinate with their battalion, track logistics, and disperse gear according to their personnel rosters. Morris said he sees the impact Alam makes in the community, and the people of Marjah respect him.
‘The fact that he had to go through 21 months of capture and whatever type of abuse and torture, come out, and still be willing to go up against insurgents again when it is possible to be held captive again is pretty impressive,” said Morris, who is 28 years old. “A guy that’s got that kind of dedication to his country and the people, to me, is held in the highest regard.”
Alam said he likes working in ANCOP because he has the opportunity to travel throughout Afghanistan. He plans to continue serving his country and is more than willing to take on any enemy who dares show his face.
“I heard the Taliban wanted to come back to Afghanistan, and they want to make peace, but I do not believe them,” said Alam. “It is unacceptable for them to come back to our country. If I have moment left in my life, I will fight them.”