A band of anti-Taliban fighters posed in Andar in September. The group has since splintered and its fighters enrolled in the Afghan Local Police.
KABUL—When villagers rose up against Taliban rule in Afghanistan’s Andar district last year, U.S. military commanders billed the surprise rebellion as a potential game-changer akin to the Sunni tribal awakening that helped the U.S. leave Iraq.
Now, as the spring fighting season begins, it is increasingly clear that the Andar uprising didn’t live up to these hopes. Reeling under Taliban attacks, the rebels of Andar have abandoned the pretense of being an independent, spontaneous movement. They have accepted supervision by the Afghan government and—even worse in this region of conservative Muslims—aid from American forces.
Many of the rebellion’s original leaders—former insurgents themselves—have been killed. Others, disillusioned by how things have turned out, distanced themselves from the project, moving to the relative safety of Kabul or elsewhere. Similar uprisings in other provinces have struggled to gain momentum, too.
“When the Americans and the government began to interfere, this hurt the holiness of the uprising,” said one of the Andar rebellion’s initial leaders, Mawlawi Rahmatullah, a former Taliban commander. “When you fight with your beliefs, you are much stronger than when you fight just with your weapons. That’s how we were able to defeat the Taliban in the beginning.”
Last summer, many Taliban put down their weapons when elders and rebel leaders in Andar convinced them that the uprising was independent of Kabul and aimed solely to protect the area from outside interference, he said. Now, Mr. Rahmatullah said, “they see it is government-backed, and they have picked up their weapons again.”
Among those killed by the Taliban in recent months: Mr. Rahmatullah’s father, brother, cousin and uncle. Mr. Rahmatullah, 33 years old, has been injured, too, and his family’s house in the district has been torched.
The troubles in Andar, a district of 500,000 people in the strategic southeastern province of Ghazni, show how hard it is to rally popular support against the Taliban when President Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul is perceived as predatory and corrupt.
These troubles are likely to intensify in coming months, as the Taliban begin their spring offensive and the U.S. pulls back its troops from the country.
“I don’t think the uprising in Andar has had any impact on the situation in the province, or in the country,” said a senior Western official familiar with Ghazni.
Today’s sober assessments stand in contrast with the expectations when the Andar uprising first started. In August, American commanders repeatedly drew parallels with the so-called Anbar Awakening, the rising of Sunni Iraqi tribes against foreign al Qaeda militants in the western Iraqi province of Anbar in 2007—a development that significantly weakened the Iraqi insurgency.
“This is a really important moment for this campaign because the brutality of the Taliban and the desire for local communities to have security has become so, so prominent—as it was in Anbar—that they’re willing to take the situation into their own hands,” the then-coalition commander, U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, told Foreign Policy magazine in late August.
The coalition and the Special Operations Command in Kabul declined to discuss the situation in Andar for this article. The military these days is touting the successes of another uprising that began in February in Panjway district of southern Kandahar province. “The people have said enough is enough, and they become fed up with the Taliban” in Panjway, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert B. Abrams, the coalition commander in south Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters this month.
The Andar uprising erupted in summer 2012, after local Taliban militants such as Mr. Rahmatullah—who spent 2007 to 2010 at the U.S. detention facilityin Bagram—and fighters of the Hezb-i-Islami insurgent group grew increasingly frustrated with more senior Taliban commanders, many of them outsiders who had moved into the district.
These commanders had shut down local schools and the district’s main bazaar, and frequently executed villagers they said were spies. “We had to defend our honor and our homes,” said Hayebatullah Haqyar, a member of the uprising’s leadership council who served as a district governor under the pre-2001 Taliban regime.
Lacking cohesive command, the Andar uprising also attracted people affiliated with Mr. Karzai’s government, such as former Ghazni Gov. Faizanullah Faizan. Another former Ghazni governor, Afghan intelligence chief Asadullah Khaled, provided covert aid to some of the rebels, Mr. Khaled and rebel leaders said. All of the uprising’s commanders initially trumpeted their independence from Kabul.
“It was a need of the time to tell the people that we’re not with the government,” Mr. Faizan says now. “People would not have risen in the name of supporting the government at that time.”
The Taliban, meanwhile, continued their attacks. All in all, the Taliban killed more than 60 uprising members and injured many others, including Mr. Faizan. By late last year, uprising leaders said they had no choice but to accept government supervision and enroll the area’s men into the Afghan Local Police, a self-defense force that is under the command of the Ministry of Interior in Kabul and mentored by U.S. special-operations forces.
“We were compelled to do it because we were between a rock and a hard place,” explained Lutfullah Kamran, a 24-year-old computer-science graduate who is commander of the new Andar ALP. “Yes, it is true that the American Special Forces are supporting us now. But this doesn’t matter—the Taliban, too, are supported by foreign countries.” The Andar ALP now numbers some 200 men, paid 6,000 afghanis ($120) a month, with 100 more being recruited, he said.
“It is better for everyone if such uprisings come under control, and operate within the framework of the law,” explained Brig. Gen. Ali Shah Ahmadzai, who oversees the ALP program at the Ministry of Interior in Kabul.
The Andar ALP’s experience has been rocky: In February, two Taliban infiltrators sprayed the force with gas and then let the Taliban into the camp, Mr. Kamran said. The insurgents gunned down 17 ALP troops in that incident, and killed five in other attacks, he said.
“At the beginning, they were calling themselves an uprising, but today they are in the foreigners’ embrace,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. “They are in a weak position.”