Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — As soon as a U.S. Marine-led offensive swept the Taliban from Marja recently, a new civilian leader was rushed in, vowing to "bring back dignity" to the town. Turns out, he had served time in a German prison for stabbing his son, international officials said Saturday.
Keeping Abdul Zahir in Marja's top post may complicate NATO's aim of urging people in southern Afghanistan to move beyond their violent past.
"It's a concern," said a U.S. official, who asked not to be named because of the matter's sensitivity. "It's something a decision will have to be made on."
A week ago Zahir told The Times, "The Taliban did nothing for Marja; we will bring back dignity and prosperity."
The legitimacy of Marja's new civilian administration is crucial to Washington's efforts to turn sentiments in the south away from the Taliban. Tribes in the region have long been skeptical of their government, blaming it for corruption and mismanagement.
Navy Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, head of communications for North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, indicated that the military alliance was not likely to call for the removal of Zahir, who was given the job by Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand province.
"We trust the judgment of Gov. Mangal in making the choice in the first place," Smith said. Zahir "is doing good work down there, according to what we're hearing."
Zahir could not be reached for comment. He has denied ever being imprisoned in Germany. Citing court records, German news reports said that while living in exile with his family, Zahir was charged with attempted manslaughter in 1998 when he stabbed his son.
But U.S. military and civilian officials said that he served part of a nearly five-year prison sentence.
"There were vague rumors about Zahir, but it wasn't until last week that information turned solid," the U.S. official said. "It's up to the Afghans on what to do. The ball's in their court."