By Khalid Zerai
NANGARHAR -- Afghan authorities have taken back control of thousands of hectares of land from Taliban militants in Bati Kot District, Nangarhar Province, including parts of a key canal project.
For years, the militants exercised control over the area, harvesting the crop for their own profit and leaving local residents destitute.
"This whole area, which is about 7,500 hectares, was insecure and under the control of the Taliban during the past 16 years," Sayed Agha Miakhil, acting director of Nangarhar’s Canal Directorate, told Salaam Times.
"We cleared this land of insurgents through directives by the new provincial government and through [military] operations launched there," he said, adding, "All of the lands now fall under the government's control."
"About 3,000 hectares of the land is agricultural," according to Miakhil.
"The Taliban would seize the harvest, including orchards of oranges and olives," he explained. "This year, however, the government will lease the land to farmers, which will be a good achievement for our government."
The Nangarhar Canal project, which began 51 years ago, once provided about 2,500 jobs.
The 72km-long canal waters 18,000 hectares. Olive groves and orange orchards make up 13,000 hectares, with other crops making up the remainder.
Parts of the canal have been affected by the war, as the Taliban and government battle for control of land adjoining it.
The Taliban financed a large part of their operations in Nangarhar and some neighbouring provinces from harvests along the canal.
"The land was a source of money for the Taliban; a large part of the militants' income came from the crops," Nangarhar Governor Hayatullah Hayat told reporters October 10 during a visit to Bati Kot.
"The Taliban had leased out the arable lands to residents, including olive orchards and citrus trees, but luckily we blocked this source of income for them."
"All of the citrus [orchards] were in the hands of the Taliban in these fields before, and they were selling it for themselves," Hameedullah, 25, a resident of Farm No. 4 of Bati Kot, told Salaam Times.
"Now, it is good to have the government and the people control the land, cutting off the Taliban's source of income," he said.
"There were a lot of trees here before, all of which the Taliban cut down," said Sayed Anwar, 40, another Bati Kot resident, referring to the Taliban's conversion of trees into firewood.
Most of the agricultural lands were turned into deserts," he said. "It will be good to have someone look after and care for the remaining lands."
Local residents in Bati Kot condemned the Taliban and said they have lived a difficult life during the past 16 years.
More than a month ago, Afghan security forces launched a series of military operations against the Taliban in the area, which lasted until October 5.
Local residents supported Afghan forces during the operations to oust the Taliban.
"I am a civilian, and I rose [against the Taliban]. I have a gun in hand to defend my people," Faqirullah, 35, a resident of the Chardehi area of Bati Kot, told Salaam Times as he stood armed on the roadside.
"We should not leave all of the responsibilities to the government," he said. "We have to do our part. I can assure you that the Taliban will not come here again."
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