This is the first installment in a three-part series.
PAKTIKA, Afghanistan — The insurgents came on foot, in broad daylight, to the simple mosque nestled among the mud-walled homes of Marzak, a tiny village embraced by mountains in northern Paktika province, on the border with Pakistan. The fighters — non-Afghans, all of them — muscled their way into the mosque and seized a man named Mohamed Amin.
It was August, Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims. Amin was in the middle of his prayers when the Taliban dragged him out onto the unpaved street, accused him of spying for the Americans and, in front of Marzak’s horrified villagers, put a bullet in his head.
Amin was no informant, according to multiple sources. The Americans and the Afghan government had rarely set foot in Marzak. The U.S. had only occasionally sent their commandos into the surrounding mountains. But one of those commando raids had recently decimated a group of foreign Taliban, and the extremists were determined to punish someone, anyone, before the coming winter made movement all but impossible.
They chose Amin because he was “vulnerable,” according to Ish Khan, an Afghan government cultural adviser specializing in this region. Amin’s brother is one of Marzak’s powerful elders, but Amin himself was an everyday guy.