Globe and Mail
October 15, 2008

KABUL — At a gas station on the outskirts of Kabul, lounging in the shade of a transport truck, Mohammed Raza describes how he escaped death.

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t

Last month, a U.S. contractor promised him $10,000 if he’d drive a truck full of diesel from Kabul to Kandahar, offering seven times more than he could earn by transporting his usual shipments of sugar. But the Taliban forbid drivers from carrying fuel to the foreign troops, he said, and the insurgents run checkpoints on the road between Afghanistan’s two largest cities. He rejected the offer. One of his friends took the assignment, he said, and the Taliban cut off his head.

“Many drivers now are selling their lives,” the 25-year-old said, nervously twisting the fringe of his beard.

The Taliban are isolating Afghanistan’s capital city from the rest of the country, choking off important supply routes and imposing their rules on the provinces near Kabul. Interviews suggest that the Taliban have gained control along three of the four major highways into the city, and some believe it’s a matter of time before they regulate all traffic around the capital.

That marks a shocking reversal of the insurgents’ fortunes. Taliban were fleeing along the highways out of Kabul less than seven years ago, abandoning their government offices, dying under a hail of U.S. air strikes as they scrambled to flee. Now the Taliban and their allied militias are creeping back up the same roads, quietly showing their presence on the outskirts of the city.

Kabul itself is heavily guarded, and nobody expects a frontal assault.

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