While government forces struggle to defend key districts near the city of Fayzabad, former mujahedin commanders are rallying new fighters to defend the province against the Taliban's onslaught in the north.
Citizens in Fayzabad marched in support of the besieged in Kunduz and against the Taliban this week (photo: Khushqadam Usmani)
Less than a week after they stormed into and took Afghanistan's 5th largest city, Kunduz, the Taliban now stand on the footsteps of Fayzabad, the capital of northern Badakhshan Province, where fierce fighting has been ongoing between government forces and Taliban militants for the last three days.
Insurgency spreads in the north
Reports emerged on Friday that the Taliban had taken two key districts linking Fayzabad to other provinces, but these supply chains have apparently now been retaken and secured in the last two days by government forces. The Taliban have also intensified fighting in neighbouring Faryab Province and south of Kunduz in Baghlan.
The government in Badakhshan is calling on former mujahedin fighters to defend their districts and has promised 1000 weapons to former combatants to fight alongside Afghan troops, according to Naweed Frotan, the governor's spokesman.
“The Taliban raped women in Kunduz and dishonored them. We will fight them and defend our women. I took up arms to fight the Taliban and defend my country,” Zabihullah Ateeq, a former member of the provincial council in Badakhshan, told Afghanistan Today.
Under siege from both sides
With the Taliban threatening the key districts of Baharak and Wardooj, the latter which they have held at different point in the last few months, Afghan forces are stretched on the frontline, with a growing list of problems in the besieged city behind them.
Other former local commanders meanwhile are busy rallying potential young reinforcements to defend any attacks on the city itself. At a recent gathering, chairman of the Ulama Council in Badakhshan Province and former mujahedin commander Hadji Sadullah stood in front of a raucous crowd of young men urging them to fight the Taliban. Local reports suggest government officials once again fled their posts last weekend as the Taliban briefly took Wardooj District before Afghan forces recaptured it. Amidst the weak defence, former mujahedin fighters are putting themselves forwards as the city's saviours.
“I came here to make sure what happened in Kunduz does not happen here,” Jahedullah, a young law student at Sadullah's rally, told Afghanistan Today.
The shockwaves from what the Taliban's attack on Kunduz achieved echoed across the region, but with the Taliban at the gates of the city, Fayazabad residents are now caught up in what is an increasingly regional conflict. Prices in the city's stores have skyrocketed as roads have become battlefields. Basic living items – milk, flour, cooking oil and cement, for example – have risen by up to 50 per cent in the last two weeks in Fayzabad's main market, says shopkeeper Haidar Muhammad. Petrol has nearly doubled in price: mobile phone top-ups have quadrupled, says Nematullah Qanay.
No tents for hundreds of IDPs
Demand for basic items has increased as at least 500 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) fleeing the violence in Kunduz arrived in Fayzabad over the last week, according to a spokesperson for the provincial branch of The Ministry for Refugees And Repatriations (MoRR), which says it has no resources to assist the unexpected influx of displaced families. The provincial branch is awaiting further instructions from Kabul, says the spokesperson.
Guldata, a middle-aged woman and stranded with other women on a street in Fayzabad, told Afghanistan Today that she fled Kunduz after three days trapped in the city. Guldata needs treatment but says she has been waiting three days and has not yet received any medical help.
The families from Kunduz say they have not been provided with any assistance by the Ministry of Refugees. UNHCR distributed blankets, basic cooking utensils and foods, but the majority of aid has come through civil society efforts and NGOs.
Found on social media
After hearing of the plight of families fleeing Kunduz for Fayzabad, an NGO founded by a local politician has housed roughly 90 people in a three-room home in Fayzabad. Social Saldy and Social Protection Organisation (SSSPO), run by MP for Badakhshan Fawzia Kofi, has also provided food and water to the homeless families.
Children housed in a temporary home provided by an NGO in Fayzabad
“We left out of fear and arrived in Badakhshan province at 8pm on Wednesday night,” says Jaleel Rasooli, one of the 90 displaced people being sheltered in the home. “At that time of night we asked the governor for help, but he did not help us in any way. Through one of our friends, Ms. Kofi found out that the governor did not help us. She sent us here,” added Rasooli.
As the battle rages on outside the city, Talabudin Ghiasi, deputy chairman of Badakhshan Provincial Council admitted people taking up arms outside the framework of government forces could be problematic in the future, but given the security situation in Badakhshan province, the battle knowledge of the former commanders could stop the Taliban from taking the city in the immediate future.