Afghan forces make progress against Taliban in Takhar

A day before presidential election, on September 27, the Taliban launched heavy attacks on Khajaghar, Chahe Ab, and Baharak district of the northern Takhar province. Concerned by the attacks, local residents held protests and warned of a possible collapse of the provincial capital, Taloqan.

Based on remarks made by local and security officials, the Afghan forces have upper hand on the battlefield but they still face strong resistance by the militants. They said that Baharak, Yangiqala, and Khajaghar districts have been cleared from the presence of the militants. The official said the Afghan forces have pushed back the Taliban insurgents from suburb of Taloqan.

Rohullah Ahmadzai, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense (MoD), said they will launch clearance operation in Darqad district in the next week—the district fell to the Taliban around three weeks ago. He stated that deputy defense minister, Yasin Zia, deputy interior minister, and deputy NDS chief are on the field to command operation against the insurgents. He added that the operation will continue until complete clearance of the province from the Taliban.

According to Ahmadzai, around 100 Taliban militants including some of the group senior commanders have been killed while a few number of Afghan forces have just sustained some injuries in the operation.

Jawad Hejri, spokesperson for Takhar governor, however, confirmed that five member of uprising forces—local militias that back Afghan forces—were killed when mistaken airstrike hit them. “The airstrike was conducted by the Resolute Support to target Taliban militants,” he noted.

Meanwhile, Ahmadzai stressed that operations will be launched in Kunduz and Baghlan provinces. “These operations will be carried out in all northern provinces,” he reiterated.

Although previously the Taliban had recaptured districts after end of military operations, the defense ministry this time assures that sufficient forces will remain in the liberated areas to prevent collapse of the districts. “Out of nine district cleared from the Taliban in recent year, no one has collapsed,” Ahmadzi stated.

Human costs of the war

The battles erupted recently between the warring sides have left a huge negative impact on the livelihood of the local residents, forcing the locals to leave their livelihoods and seek shelter in the capital city of Takhar.

Hejri says these battles have displaced around 2,700 families from Baharak and Khajaghar districts to refugee camps in Taloqan. He assures that aid agencies have provided the internally displaced people (IDP) with the required facilities and shelters. “Around 40 percent of the refugees have repatriated to their homes after the clearance of Khajaghar and Baharak districts,” he added.

On the other hand, Esmatullah Qurbani, member of Takhar provincial council, told Kabul Now that the Taliban used civilian houses as human shield in their attacks on the two districts.

“The Taliban are taking children with themselves and even use women burqa in some cases,” the ministry’s spokesman added.

Mohammad Azam Afzali, another member of Takhar provincial council, said that a civilian was killed and two others injured in the recent battle with the Taliban.

“The Taliban have even planted landmines inside schools and security forces have diffused them,” he stated, adding that the militants set fire on civilian houses, shops, and state facilities when suffered defeat in Khajaghar district.

But the governor spokesperson, Hejri, claimed that in addition to planting landmines, the Taliban looted some civilian houses.

Taliban recruitment in madrassas

Provincial councilman, Afzali, claims most of the Taliban fighters are students who have studied in religious schools, madrassas, in the province. “Most of religious schools train the children and young people and send them to frontlines when they get skilled,” he said, noting that the Taliban had recruited from all religious schools operating in the province, in their attacks on Baharak district.

He criticized that the local government did not have any oversight on the operation of religious schools in the province.

According to Afzali, most of the Taliban commanders who lead the ongoing Taliban fight in the province are residents of the province. He mentioned Mawlawi Hassan, Taliban’s shadow governor for Takhar, Mawlawi Nooruddin, the group’s shadow governor for Samangan, Mullah Rasool and Mawlawi Kabeer, another two senior commanders of the group are living in the province.