A Visit with a Taliban Bomb-Maker

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Dust kicks off the ground during an operation by US Army soldiers attached to the 2nd platoon, C-Coy. 1-23 Infantry after charges are fired by for safe detonation of IED's on Sept. 23, 2012 in Panjwai district, Afghanistan.

“I am here in Kandahar on a short vacation,” says the young man, about 27, who we will call Mullah Kalam. His beard is trimmed neat; he is wearing a black leather jacket and a striped beige turban. Kalam has been a student for five years at a religious seminary across the border in Chaman, in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Two years into his studies, as U.S. President Barack Obama ordered a surge of 33,000 troops in Afghanistan, much of it focused in the south, Kalam’s family of 11 left their home in Panjwai district, about 40km from the city of Kandahar, to settle in Chaman.

But Kalam’s “short vacations” home, at least twice every year, are no innocent excursions. Panjwai is considered one of the most heavily mined areas in the country. The Taliban have been known to place homemade bombs and booby-traps everywhere—on dirt roads, pomegranate trees, and vegetable fields—and have forced a curfew on locals between 8pm and 8am. Besides Kalam’s religious studies, he has been spending time with “Pakistani explosive experts,” he says. Putting that training to work, he has helped orchestrate about 20 Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks.

Complete dispatch here.