Afghan Police Official Joins Taliban to Fight Americans


KABUL, Afghanistan — A local officials in western Afghanistan reported Tuesday that a low-level police commander had switched sides with his men and gone to fight for the Taliban, and an American engineer was reported killed in an area less than 50 miles from the Afghan capital.

The apparent defection occurred in the Bala Baluk district of Farah Province in the far west part of the country, where the Taliban have been active. The province borders the Taliban heartland of Helmand Province and the largely lawless Ghor Province.

It was unclear from officials how many of the commander’s men had defected with him or whether they had been forced to leave their post.

The Interior Ministry denied accounts of the defection, but said in a statement that it had “recovered six police in Farah” and that a search operation was continuing, suggesting that if there had been a defection by his men, it had been brief. Two policemen were still missing late on Tuesday night, said Siddiq Siddiqi, the Interior Ministry spokesman.

In a different account of what happened, the provincial governor’s spokesman, Abdul Rahman Zhwand, said that 11 of the commander’s men had gone with him and that they had taken two police pickup trucks.

The commander, whose name is Mirwais, had ties to the insurgents and was put in charge of two outposts in the hope that he could woo local members of the Taliban into changing sides, said Abdul Basir Khairkhwah, the chairman of Farah’s provincial council.

“The reason he was chosen to command the two outposts in Shiwa was that he knew a lot of people, both civilians and Taliban, in the area,” Mr. Khairkhwah said.

He continued: “By appointing him as the commander of these two outposts, the government hoped that he might be able to bring in some Taliban to the government. The provincial government has started an investigation into Mirwais’s defection, but I think it is too late and it will be useless because he is gone now. They should have thought twice before trusting him with all those resources and men.”

Mr. Khairkhwah added that the commander had taken weapons, radios, ammunition and two police trucks with him.

On almost the other side of the country, in the mountainous Parwan Province, gunmen attacked a car on Sunday carrying an American, an Afghan engineer and a driver, killing all three, according to the provincial governor’s office and Shirin Agha, the police chief of the Seyah Gerd district, where the attack occurred. News of the killing began to surface late Monday.

The American Embassy confirmed that an American civilian had been killed but said it could not release additional information because of privacy laws.

According to local residents and Mr. Agha, the district police chief, the American was about 60 years old and had been wearing Afghan-style clothing: a shalwar kameez, including a loosefitting shirt that hangs to the knees and baggy long pants. A spokeswoman for the Parwan governor’s office described the American man as an electrical engineer.

“They all had beards, and the American engineer had a long gray beard,” Mr. Agha said. “The insurgents were hiding on one side of the road and, as soon as the engineers’ car had passed, they opened fire.”

He said he thought the attack was a coincidence rather than a planned killing of an American by the insurgents.

“They are trying to show their presence and scare commuters,” he said.

Mr. Agha said that despite the attack, the valley, once one of the only safe routes to the remote Bamian Province, was far better than it had been a couple of months ago before a military operation that killed and captured many insurgents from rival factions.

Before that operation, the provincial council head of Bamian was kidnapped and killed, and “they were attacking police convoys, kidnapping people and torching fuel tankers,” Mr. Agha said.

However, there are now reports that recently some Taliban migrated to the area from a nearby province, suggesting that the Afghan security forces are contending with a tenacious insurgency there.

Sangar Rahimi contributed reporting.

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