Afghanistan special report: Lt Nazar Mohammed at war from age 14
by Chris Hughes, Daily Mirror
Pictures by Andy Stenning
Behind enemy lines in Afghanistan: Day Two
THEY call him The Commander. And sitting on a compound roof raking Taliban positions with his PK machine gun this grizzled Charles Bronson lookalike is a master of the terrible art of war.
Lieutenant Nazar Mohammed is a near-legendary Tajik warrior who has been at war since 14 when he picked up a gun to avenge his brother’s death.
Then he was a mujahedeen fighting the Russians, now he is commanding a heavy weapons platoon of battle-hardened Afghan National Army soldiers on the Helmand front line.
These are the British and American-trained troops whose new soldiering skills will be the legacy our forces leave behind when they withdraw by 2015.
More than 12,000 are now fully trained in Helmand – just under half the 30,000 needed to secure the flashpoint province – once the Taliban heartland.
All over Afghanistan there are just over 157,000 trained ANA.
The lethal Soviet-made, belt-fed machine gun looks like an extension of the 35-year-old father of two’s arm as he calmly blasts the insurgents, his loyal men applauding every burst.
After 20 minutes he shrugs and climbs down, nodding at Lieutenant Rhydian Emlyn-Williams.
It’s as if he is telling his British adviser – 12 years his junior: “That’s how you deal with the Taliban Afghan-style.”
When RPGs go bang and bullets fly Lt Nazar doesn’t even blink.
He has been shot three times by the Russians, but his slow gait is the only sign of his brushes with death.
Turning to me he says: “I have been fighting since I was a boy – it no longer has any effect on me to fight like this.
“I picked up a gun to avenge my brother’s death and still, even now, I am a soldier fighting for the future of Afghanistan – just like I was all those years ago. Why am I so calm? I am calm because this is my job.
“I have to fight like this and I have been doing it for so long now it is every day life for me.
“The Taliban are stupid and listen to foreign commanders from Pakistan, Chechnya and Arab countries.
“But they should put down their guns and join us fighting this menace of foreigners coming in here and trying to destroy our country.” Unlike many of his men he does not hate the Taliban.
The unspoken truth about this war is that some of his soldiers may well be ex-Taliban fighters themselves.
Sighing, he continues: “We are all Muslims, all Afghani. I want to see a better Afghanistan but it will take time. Eventually, when the British pull out, we will secure Afghanistan.” I ask him which was worse, Afghanistan under the Russians, or Afghanistan under the Taliban. He replies simply: “That is the only question I will not answer.” He knows many of those he is fighting are fellow Afghanis, bowing to pressure, either through poverty or fear.
We joined Lt Nazar as his men fought the Taliban for three days after a dramatic air-assault on a remote area of south Nahr-e-Saraj, central Helmand.
The Lt commands a platoon from the 1st Kandak, 3 Brigade, 215 Corps of the ANA. Their night air-assault stormed Taliban IED belts and ambushes.
More such operations aim to pave the way for the British to withdraw, leaving 179,000 trained ANA soldiers. But Lt Nazar feels this will not be enough if the International Security Assistance Force withdraws.
He adds: “One day soldiers like my men will be able to secure our country. Helmand is key as it is the most volatile. But we need about 250,000 men to do it. Without that we could be in trouble.”