No one has conquered it in over a century. Not the United States Army, not the Islamic State, not the Taliban, not the the mujahedeen, not the Soviet army. The inhabitants of the rugged Darah-i-Noor valley, whose villages are built into mountain slopes like fortresses, have always wanted one thing above all: to be left alone. But, as they will tell you here, one thing has always been clear if there has to be fighting: Anyone here capable of holding a gun will do so. At least among the men.
The fact that enemies might appear to be stronger than they are has never been a reason for the people here to give up. Their cousins a few mountain ranges away in the Korangal Valley didn’t give up in recent years, either, when they defied the helicopters, missiles, drones and precision munitions of the Americans who had set up base there. “That’s jihad,” they tersely say. “That’s how it has to be.”
However, what is deeply unsettling to everyone in the valley these days is the news about five men who were seen walking in the area in the middle of the day.
At first, it was just a rumor that quickly spread from village to village and was met with doubt and the shaking of heads – at least until the person who spread it was able to provide the scant details. Mohammed Zafar, a farmer, was on his way back from his field at 11 a.m. in early June when he ran right into the five men. They gruffly ordered him to stop and asked what he was doing here. He answered that he was from here, that this is his village. He says his thoughts were muddled out of fear and confusion. And he simply
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