Afghan veteran of Chechnya conflict shrugs off Taliban bullets
RABAT, Afghanistan, Oct 13 (AFP) - As the sniper bullets whizzed past him, landing with a loud thud in the mud-baked wall less than a metre away, Commander Shahwali stopped just for a moment before walking on.
On the normally quiet frontline north of Kabul, the Taliban soldiers have suddenly turned more aggressive and appear to have sent reinforcements in since the United States launched its strikes on Afghanistan on Sunday.
In the mornings, Taliban snipers armed with Kalashnikovs shoot at the nearby Afghan opposition forces. The shelling then starts after lunch, building up to a barrage of artillery fire by evening.
"When you bite the tail of a dog, he starts to get angry and bites you back," explained the commander, who is stationed in the frontline village of Rabat, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Kabul.
In the narrow dusty alleyways between shelled houses, soldiers of the opposition Northern Alliance come under fire every day as they make their way to the advance post, 150 metres (450 feet) away from the Taliban.
But Shahwali, who fought on the side of Chechen independence forces during the 1994-96 war against Russia, was unconcerned as he peered over the sandbags pointing to a heavy machine-gun at the Taliban post.
"The Russian storming of Grozny was the worst battle I was in," he said grinning broadly. "Even the women and children were firing at the Russians."
In December 1994, Russian forces tried to storm the Chechen capital but their advance collapsed into a bloodbath as Chechen rebels armed with rocket-propelled grenades opened fire on tanks trapped in the narrow streets.
"The Chechens are better fighters than the Afghans," said Shahwali, who fought under Dzhokhar Dudayev, the former Soviet airforce colonel who declared Chechen independence.
The Afghan belonged to forces of Pashtun warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who laid a three-year siege of Kabul from late 1992 in frustration at being kept from power by the government of ethnic Tajik President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
On Hekmatyar's orders, he and others went sent to Chechnya to join the "jihad" (Holy War) against Russia.
But now he is fighting Chechens who together with Arab and Pakistani extremists are on the Taliban side, while he is among the ranks of Rabbani's Northern Alliance, which gets weapons from Moscow.
On September 8, three Arabs crossed the no man's land and were cut down by a hail of bullets. Their bodies are lying in the sun rotting, but one night Shahwali's men sneaked out to get the dead men's identity cards and weapons as trophies.
"I will give you one of the identity cards as a memento if you come back tonight," he said.
Shouting from deafness, the black bearded commander boasted that he had fired 2,400 rocket-propelled grenades during his life.
On the rooftop of his now abandoned house, half a kilometre from the Taliban front line, he picked up an Enfield rifle, regulation issue for British troops in the mid-19th century which were fighting in Afghanistan.
"It's a very good gun, I put Russian bullets in it to fire at the Taliban," said Shahwali.
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