Dozens of women in Feroz Koh, the capital city of Afghanistan’s central Ghor province, took up arms and marched on Sunday to show their defiance against the advancing Taliban.
The women said they would support “public mobilization” militias standing up even as Afghan army units surrender without a fight or flee before the Taliban onslaught.
“They are standing by their brothers and are supporting the system, the people, and the country’s sovereignty,” an admiring resident of Ghor told Afghanistan’s Tolo News as the women marched through the provincial capital, some of them toting heavy weapons and rocket grenades.
The Afghan central government appears torn between supporting the growing militia movement as much-needed reinforcements for underperforming security forces and worrying about “bad consequences” from heavily-armed, unregulated irregulars taking the field.
“A situation that will later create bad consequences will not be allowed. They will first support us and then they will be included in the police, army, or the local NDS forces,” Afghan interior minister Gen. Abdul Sattar Mirzakawal warned. NDS is Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, the primary government military and intelligence agency.
“We hear some words from some sides asking: Why have they gone to war? They should stay in the city and hand over the war to us. My brother, you are losing the war,” militia leader Atta Mohammad Noor fired back in response to government criticism of the public mobilization units.
Tolo News quoted provincial officials who urged the government to support militia organizations that have “proved effective” in defending cities like Kunduz.
Popular discontent with the response from Kabul is growing as the Taliban keeps making gains. Nine more districts fell to the extremist army on Sunday. Government security officials claimed they inflicted “casualties” on the Taliban, but they were evidently unable to halt the offensive.
Some residents of the areas under attack said they saw no evidence of government forces successfully engaging the Taliban, so any casualties would have been inflicted on the invaders by militia fighters.
“The city of Taluqan has been under siege by the Taliban for the last two weeks. The central government has paid no attention. We witness the Takhar youth martyred every day,” said one skeptical local.
The border guard of neighboring Tajikistan said over a thousand Afghan government troops fled into their country on Sunday, marking the largest confirmed retreat by the Afghan military to date. The refugees said Taliban terrorists captured dozens of their comrades when Tajik border guards refused to let them pass.
Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahkmon expressed his concerns about the deteriorating security situation in northern Afghanistan and “forced crossings” by fleeing soldiers in a phone call with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday.
“The Taliban cut off all the roads and these people had nowhere to go but to cross the border,” a senior Afghan official admitted.
A member of parliament from the border province of Badakhshan said on Sunday that the Taliban had taken 26 of the province’s 28 districts, capturing three of them without resistance.
The BBC on Monday cited reports that Afghan troops are also fleeing into Pakistan and Uzbekistan. At least 1,600 Afghan troops are believed to have fled the country over the past few weeks.
The Ghani administration promised Russian security officials on Monday that a counterattack against the Taliban is planned. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that its consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif has been closed due to security concerns. The Russians are also concerned for the security of their military base in Tajikistan, which was once part of the Soviet Union.
The Taliban said on Monday that any foreign troops remaining in the country after the September 11 withdrawal deadline will be classified as “occupiers” and could be attacked.
“We are against the foreign military forces, not diplomats, NGOs and workers and NGOs functioning and embassies functioning – that is something our people need. We will not pose any threat to them,” said a spokesman for the insurgents.