After Kunduz, Afghans fear more gains for Taliban in volatile north


For Afghans in the north, Kunduz is just a sign of things to come. Many fear that the resurging Taliban, which controls highways and surrounding district centres in the region, will take more provincial capitals.

The siege of Afghanistan’s key northern city of Kunduz by thousands of Taliban fighters shattered the semblance of security touted by the Kabul government.

It was a show of military prowess for the Taliban, and disputed the strength of local NATO-backed forces.

Officials and local residents speak of a worrisome trend throughout the northern region, which used to be relatively calm.

“Everyone that I meet these days are worried about the security situation in the entire northern region because of Kunduz,” said Mohammad Ali Mohaqiq, a 31-year old politician based in northern Afghanistan.

“All the nine provinces have huge security concerns. There are pockets of insurgency, active and strong, in all these provinces.”

He added that Taliban fighters in the region may be “motivated to launch more attacks” as a result of the movement’s success in briefly overrunning Kunduz last month.

“We can say that the entire northern region is under threat.”

Indeed, within a week of the Kunduz siege, the Taliban took nine districts in the north. Many other districts remain contested.

Mohaqiq said the capitals in three provinces – Badakshan, Baghlan, and Sar-i Pol – are under threat by the Taliban’s advances.

The Taliban have established their base just outside the city in an area called Sheramha, according to reports from locals in Sar-i Pol.

Haji Salahuddin, a provincial council member, said that most of Sheramha is ruled by the Taliban and that the militia carries out night patrols in the outskirts of the city.

Deputy head of the council Mohammad Noor Rahmani said the Taliban have set up checkpoints along highways, making it unsafe for government staff to travel by car.

“It is an unfortunate fact, but the insurgency shifted to the north in the past year or so,” Rahmani said. “If the government fails to come up with a strategy to rid the north of this Taliban resurgence, the situation is going to get worse with each passing day.”

In far north-east Badakshan, an area largely untouched by the conflict until a few years ago, four districts are under Taliban control and eight are contested. The Taliban are now heading towards the capital, Faizabad.

“Without air support and flying troops in, there can be no operation because of the rough terrain. Sadly the Afghan forces do not have the capability,” Gul Ahmad Bedar, the deputy governor of Badakshan, said.

The Afghan security forces are over-stretched and worn out, Sanatullah Temur, a local government official in Takhar, told dpa.

He said most of the Afghan forces based in Takhar on Kunduz’s border are deployed to neighbouring provinces for fighting.

Gor Tepa, an area outside Kunduz city, fell to the Taliban in June because local troops had already been sent to fight in the Jurm district of Badakshan, according to locals.

Many districts rely on the work of just 50-80 policemen, who are based predominantly in central areas.

In Baghlan province, the Taliban looks set to take over the provincial capital of Pul-e Khumri if the situation continues to worsen, according to Feruzuddin Aymaq of the local council.

“The security is so bad,” he said, adding that one town 20 kilometres east of Pul-e Khumri has already fallen under Taliban control.

Even in Balkh, a province up until now rarely touched by insurgents, the Taliban have made some inroads, launching an assault on the district centre of Dawlatabad the same day they took Kunduz.

Police reinforcements from a neighbouring district pushed the takeover back. A few days later the district police chief was killed by a roadside bomb.

In the north-west province of Faryab, the security situation deteriorated so badly over the summer that Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, a general, led a military campaign himself.

This did not prevent the Taliban from seizing even larger areas. Now six of the 14 districts are under Taliban control.

Last week, after the Kunduz siege, the Taliban mounted a large-scale assault to capture the provincial capital Maimana. They almost took over, locals said.

Pashtuns, the largest ethnic minority in Afghanistan, historically make up the majority of the Taliban, but now a large number of smaller minorities, like Uzbeks and Turkmens, have also joined the organization’s ranks in the north.

“I think there might be a shift in the Taliban recruiting,” said Mohaqiq. “Their Pashtun-centric offensive failed in the past, so they are recruiting other ethnicities aggressively.”

The young politician harks from the Hazara community, a predominantly Shiite minority group. Taliban members and other Afghan ethnicities are mostly Sunnis.

“In Dawlatabad, one of the most insecure districts in Balkh, the Taliban are mostly from Turkmen ethnicity. In Faryab, Pashtun and Uzbek Taliban are fighting side by side,” he said.