London: The former governor of Afghanistan`s Helmand province, Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, has admitted that he encouraged up to 3,000 of his followers to join the Taliban following his dismissal under international pressure.
"When I was no longer governor the government stopped paying for the people who supported me. I sent 3,000 of them off to the Taliban because I could not afford to support them but the Taliban was making payments," The Telegraph quoted Akhundzada, as saying.
Akhundzada, a former mujahideen fighter against the Russians, was sacked as Helmand`s governor in 2005 after being accused of being linked to the opium trade. Nine tons of opium were found in his cellars in 2005.
The move coincided with a huge upsurge in the number of British deaths in Afghanistan.
Before moving into Helmand province in 2006, British forces had suffered five deaths, but the death toll has risen to 235, including 98 dead this year.
"Lots of people, including my family members, went back to the Taliban because they had lost respect for the government. The British bore the brunt of this because the Taliban became the defenders of Helmand, where the local tradition doesn`t allow foreigners to go into people`s homes," Akhundzada said.
Brigadier Ed Butler, who commanded the Helmand Task Force in 2006, confirmed hundreds of Akhundzada`s followers had been involved in clashes with British troops.
"There was a force of fighters who had lost one powerful leader, Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, and had decided to support the Taliban. Our forces no doubt engaged in the ensuring battles with some of them over the long hot summer of 2006," he said. President Hamid Karzai is known to believe that Akhundzada`s removal was a disaster, and has publicly praised the senator for holding the Taliban at bay.
Karzai is now rumoured to be considering restoring Akhundzada, who is now an Afghan senator, to his old job in a forthcoming reshuffle.