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Switching sides in Afghanistan
Al Jazeera's Qais Azimy speaks to an Isaf soldier who defected to the Taliban.
Last Modified: 27 Apr 2009 08:02 GMT

The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf)  is drawn from 41 contributing nations [GETTY]

A man with a long, black beard gets out of a Toyota, with four other Taliban fighters in tow.

He says "hello" to everyone who is there to greet him and appears much friendlier and warmer than one would expect of a Taliban fighter. 

Dressed in expensive clothes and donning a smart black turban, he carries an expensive Makarov Russian pistol, a rare and prized weapon in Afghanistan.

It is immediately obvious that he is not Afghan.

The other Taliban fighters say he is an Arab who came to Afghanistan with the "infidel fighters". But he never fought with them - he fled the Sangen district base he had been assigned to and surrendered to the Taliban in his full military gear.

That was two years ago.

Revered by Taliban

I approached him and spoke in Pashto, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan. Over the years he had learnt how to speak it perfectly.

He introduces himself as Mustafa. I ask him for his second name.

"Just call me Mustafa," he said.

"The jihad [struggle] is here. Mujahidin [Islamic fighters] are here. I do not want to go back"

Mustafa, former Isaf soldier

"Everyone in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) knows me. They all know my story," he says.

I ask him for an interview but he says that he cannot give me too much information and refused to allow a photograph to be taken; he could be killed if he allows that, he said.

Mustafa says he had come to Afghanistan as a member of the UAE contingent to the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).

The UAE, which previously was one of three countries which had formally recognised the Taliban after their capture of Kabul in 1996, has approximately 25 troops serving with Isaf in Afghanistan, according to figures released in April 2009.

In 2001, the UAE revoked its recognition of the Taliban on September 21, 2001.

Mustafa says he had qualms that his service within Isaf was wrong, so instead of fighting the Taliban, he fled the base and joined the Taliban who welcomed him with open arms.

Now he is considered one the most revered and respected Taliban fighters in Helmand province.

'Suicide mission'

At first, Mustafa wanted to go back home but he eventually decided against it. "I don't know what they would do to me," he says.

Taliban attacks are at the highest levels since the group was driven from Kabul in 2001 [AFP]
"But anyway what could I do there? The jihad [struggle] is here. Mujahidin [Islamic fighters] are here. I do not want to go back."

I watched as he embraced a fellow Taliban fighter, gripping his hand and saying: "When are we going to do a sacrifice [suicide] bombing together?"

It is hard to tell if he is being serious, but it is undoubtedly common for those who become close friends to make this kind of pact together for their faith and honour.

Such is the bond and appeal of the jihad these fighters believe they are fighting.

Mustafa leaves, and I cannot help but wonder where he will end his days.

In the field, fighting the "foreigners", or with an explosive belt strapped to his body?

Source:
Al Jazeera
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