A tiny bridge across a stream on a blind corner in the Kabul-Kandarhar highway in Wardak has been the site of more than 200 attacks in eight years. Can Afghan national forces secure it before the Taliban's
The road leading to the Saed Abad culvert, where hundreds of people have lost thier lives in Taliban attacks in the last decade. (Photos: Qarib Rahman Shahab)
Nicknamed the 'bloody hump' by Wardak residents, the tiny culvert on the perilous Kabul-Kandarhar Highway - AKA the ‘Highway of Horrors’ - has been the repeated target of Taliban mines, IEDS and shootings, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives, millions of afghani to the local economy and piles of burnt vehicles in the last decade, say security officials.
“Around 500 people have been killed at the bloody hump, and as many as 250 have been wounded,” says Sharifullah Hotak, a Wardak provincial council member. Hotak says these numbers are based on hospital figures and estimates from local residents: security officials have yet to present an official death count.
The spokesman for the Wardak provincial security headquarters, Abdul Wali Nowruzi, cites a similar figure however and says the victims are indiscriminately chosen. “International troops, Afghan Nation Army (ANA) forces, Afghan National Police (ANP) forces, national security personnel, drivers of supply trucks, civilians and Taliban fighters have been killed in this area,” Nowruzi told Afghanistan Today, adding that private security forces constitute a large percentage of the casualties. More than 20 Taliban fighters have also been killed while planting mines on the small bridge or as a result of firefights in the nearby area.
Bridge to nowhere
The primary task of private security contractors was to ensure safe passage for supply convoys, bringing goods to international and Afghan security forces stationed in the region. Afghan National Security Forces have taken over security duties at the dangerous spot and a permanent police checkpoint is now stationed 100 metres from the culvert.
"The police either had connections with the Taliban or they did not properly monitor the area." Wardak Provincial Council member.
Yet the recently erected police checkpoint has failed to prevent further attacks, says another Wardak provincial council member, who preferred not to be named.
“There are two reasons for this: the police either had connections with the Taliban or they did not properly monitor the area for unknown reasons,” the councilor told Afghanistan Today.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Afghanistan Today that he does not know the precise number of people killed on the Saed Abad river-crossing, but that "it is a lot".
Taliban's favourite blind corner
The ‘bloody hump’ is one of many points on the highwaytargeted by local Taliban in the volatile district of Saed Abad, but its strategic position has made it the site of more than 200 attacks in eight years, according to local residents. Situated on a blind corner, the hidden bridge - only 3 metres wide and 7 metres long - provides perfect cover for Taliban assailants. On one side of the culvert lies the busy Salar Bazar market, which provides a screen, while the lush green farms and trees on the other side of the road ensure Taliban fighters can escape and get to the village unspotted.
“The bloody hump is located in a spot on the highway where lower down the road there are green and dense trees and farms, and on the upper side of the road there is the village of Salar, which means that the only way to commute through here is the highway. If the road is damaged, cars cannot go over to the village or lower down to the farmlands. This is where the Taliban seize the opportunity and target the vehicle ahead which inevitably damages the road...then they start a firefight,” says a local elder from Salar Village, Modeer Shir Agha. In one example alone in 2013, a commuter bus was attacked and 33 civilians and private security contractors were killed.
Shops at the nearby Salar Bazaar have suffered a sharp drop in business because of their proximity to the deadly culvert site.
The high death toll and risk factor on the bridge is also taking its toll on the local economy. Meat packers at the Salar Bazar say they now only do 10 per cent of the business they used to. Farmers in the area below the culvert have been forced to abandon their land because the assailants run detonation chords across their fields.
Acting Wardak Governor Abdul Majeed Khogyanai declined to offer an official figure for the number of casualties at the Saed Abad culvert, but claims there has been no “major security incident" on the Kabul-Kandarhar Highway in the past 8 months. Two weeks ago an armed group killed 13 passengers in an attack on a bus at night.
The 'bloody hump' culvert at least has been free of attacks for the last two months and the government has reconstructed it once again. More than 50 mines have been cleared from the site with the assistance of international forces, but with the return of warmer weathers and the Taliban’s annual spring offensive, local residents expect more explosions soon.