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Taliban Gains Drive Afghan Militias    06/25 06:20

   The Taliban gains are significant because of the transportation routes they 
provide the insurgents. But equally significant is that the north is the 
traditional stronghold of Afghanistan's minority ethnic groups, who aided the 
U.S.-led invasion that drove the Taliban from power nearly 20 years ago and 
have been part of the ruling leadership since.

   KOH DAMAN, Afghanistan (AP) -- For two days the fighting was blistering. 
Rockets and heavy machine gun fire pounded Imam Sahib, a key district on 
Afghanistan's northern border with Tajikistan.

   When the explosions died down and Syed Akram finally emerged from his home 
earlier this week, three of his neighbor's children had been killed, and a tank 
was burning on a nearby street corner. Several shops and a petrol station were 
still smoldering. In the streets, the Taliban were in control.

   There were maybe 300 of them, he said. That had been plenty to overwhelm the 
government troops defending the town, who had numbered fewer than 100. Akram 
saw several bodies of soldiers in the street, but many had fled the district 

   In recent days, the Taliban have made quick gains in Afghanistan's north, 
overrunning multiple districts, some of them reportedly with hardly a fight, 
even as the U.S. and NATO press forward with their final withdrawal from 
Afghanistan. By all accounts their departure will be complete long before the 
Sept. 11 deadline set by President Joe Biden when he announced in mid-April an 
end to America's "forever war."

   The Taliban gains are significant because of the transportation routes they 
provide the insurgents. But equally significant is that the north is the 
traditional stronghold of Afghanistan's minority ethnic groups, who aided the 
U.S.-led invasion that drove the Taliban from power nearly 20 years ago and 
have been part of the ruling leadership since.

   The traditional stronghold of the Taliban, who are mostly ethnic Pashtuns, 
has been in the country's south and east.

   With the recent gains, Taliban now control the main border crossing with 
Tajikistan, a main trade route. They also hold the strategic district of Doshi, 
critical because the one road linking Kabul to northern Afghanistan runs 
through it.

   As a result, a worried government this week launched what it called National 
Mobilization, arming local volunteers. Observers say the move only resurrects 
militias that will be loyal to local commanders or powerful Kabul-allied 
warlords, who wrecked the Afghan capital during the inter-factional fighting of 
the 1990s and killed thousands of civilians.

   "The fact that the government has put out the call for the militias is a 
clear admission of the failure of the security forces ... most certainly an act 
of desperation," said Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the U.S.-based Foundation 
for Defense of Democracies. Roggio tracks militant groups and is editor of the 
foundation's Long War Journal.

   "The Afghan military and police have abandoned numerous outposts, bases, and 
district centers, and it is difficult to imagine that these hastily organized 
militias can perform better than organized security forces," he said.

   On Wednesday at Koh Daman on Kabul's northern edge, dozens of armed 
villagers in one of the first National Mobilization militias gathered at a 
rally. "Death to criminals!" and "Death to Taliban!" they shouted, waving 
automatic rifles. Some had rocket propelled grenade launchers resting casually 
on their shoulders.

   A handful of uniformed Afghan National Police officers watched. "We need 
them, we have no leadership, we have no help," said Moman, one of the policemen.

   He criticized the Defense and Interior Ministries, saying they were stuffed 
with overpaid officials while the front-line troops receive little pay.

   "I'm the one standing here for 24 hours like this with all this equipment to 
defend my country," he said, indicating his weapons and vest jammed with 
ammunition. "But in the ministries, officials earn thousands" of dollars. He 
spoke on condition he be identified only by his first name for fear of 

   The other police standing nearby joined in with the criticism, others 
nodding in agreement. New recruits in the security forces get 12,000 Afghanis a 
month, about $152, with higher ranks getting the equivalent of about $380.

   The U.S. and NATO have committed to paying $4 billion annually until 2024 to 
support the Afghanistan National Security and Defense Forces. Still, even 
Washington's official watchdog auditing spending says Afghan troops are 
disillusioned and demoralized with corruption rife throughout the government.

   As the districts fell, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani swept through his 
Defense and Interior Ministries, appointing new senior leadership, including 
reinstating Bismillah Khan as defense minister. Khan was previously removed for 
corruption, and his militias have been criticized for summary killings. They 
were also deeply involved in the brutal civil war that led to the Taliban's 
takeover in 1996.

   Afghan and international observers fear a similar conflict could erupt once 
more. During the 1990's war, multiple warlords battled for power, nearly 
destroying Kabul and killing at least 50,000 people -- mostly civilians -- in 
the process.

   Those warlords returned to power after the Taliban's fall and have gained 
wealth and strength since. They are jealous of their domains, deeply 
distrustful of each other, and their loyalties to Ghani are fluid. Ethnic Uzbek 
warlord Rashid Dostum Uzbek, for example, violently ousted the president's 
choice for governor of his Uzbek-controlled province of Faryab earlier this 

   A former adviser to the Afghan government, Torek Farhadi, called the 
national mobilization "a recipe for future generalized violence."

   He noted the government has promised to pay the militias, even as official 
security forces complain salaries are often delayed for months. He predicted 
the same corruption would eat away at the funds meant for militias, and as a 
result "local commanders and warlords will quickly turn against him (Ghani) and 
we will have fiefdoms and chaos."

   Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Associated Press on Thursday 
that the insurgents captured 104 districts since May 1, including at least 29 
in recent fighting. That brought the total area of Taliban control to 165 of 
Afghanistan's 471 districts nationwide.

   There was no way to immediately verify his statements, and some areas often 
change hands back and forth. Most analysts tracking the front lines say the 
Taliban control or hold sway in roughly half the country. Their areas of 
control are mostly in rural areas.

   Officials and observers say many across the country have allegiance to 
neither side and are deeply disillusioned by corruption, which has resulted in 
ordinary Afghans benefiting little from the trillions of dollars in 
international assistance pumped into the country the past 20 years.

   "There is no stability. There is no peace," said Abdul Khasani, an employee 
at a bus station not far from the Koh Daman militia gathering.

   "In Afghanistan, under the Taliban people are suffering, and under the 
government people are suffering," he said.


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