Violence escalates in western Afghanistan

Violence escalates in western Afghanistan as foreign troops withdrawing

The Taliban militants continue to accelerate their war engine in the western parts of Afghanistan as the foreign troops are pulling out of the country. Some of the districts might fall in the hands of the militant group if the Afghan security forces do not act preemptively, a number of local representatives warn.

The warning comes while the Ministry of Defense (MoD) claims that the Taliban have failed to take control over western Afghanistan, assuring that the Afghan security forces are fully prepared to tackle insurgency in the western region of the country.

Insecurity looms in the outskirts of Herat city   

The border province of Herat has seen an unprecedented escalation in the level of violence this year. The Taliban have changed tactics, now resorting to large-scale attacks. In a recent wave of violence, Taliban car bombs went off on May 02, killing five government forces and wounding three more, according to Herat governor, Sayed Abdul Wahid Qatali. The blasts partially destroyed the district headquarters and turned houses and shops in the neighborhood.

Over the last week the militants launched several attacks on Shindand district. Over last week a series of clashes erupted between the government forces and the Taliban militants in this district which inflicted huge financial losses on civilian populations, according to locals.

The 2017 Zafar Military Corps, headquartered in the west of the country, in a statement issued on Monday, May 03, said that as many as 22 Taliban militants were killed and 17 others wounded in Shindand district.

The Afghan security forces are fighting against the Taliban in six districts of Herat province.

“The Taliban struck a deal with the United States while they have been killing us over the past 20 years just for having friendship with the United States. The Taliban are mercenaries of the hostile countries and they do not want stability in Afghanistan,” Qatali said. He urged the people to continue supporting government writ and resist the Taliban. The governor said Afghan security and defense forces will suppress the insurgency.

The ongoing conflict has forced a large number of families from Pashtun Zarghun, Shindand, Obe, and other districts to seek shelter in Herat city. Rahguzar, a 50-year old woman from Pashtun Zarghun district, lost five members of her family around three years ago to the Taliban violence. The Taliban gunned down her two brothers and a niece, as she claimed, on charges of cooperation with the government. “The Taliban have also killed my father and mother. Fratricide is enough and we ask the Taliban to make peace.”

With an estimated four million population, Herat is a business hub in western Afghanistan which shares borders with Iran and Turkmenistan. Herat residents are now concerned, fearing that the war might continue to spread in the city.

Taliban influence in Farah is growing

As per account of members of Farah Provincial Council, the Taliban have full control over Bakwa, Khak-e-Safid, Gulistan, and Shibkoh district while posing serious threats against six other districts.

A local representative calls on the central government to increase the number of security bases in the area and equip the Afghan security forces with sophisticated military equipment.

“The government controls the limited area in Farah. Security rings and [military] bases are always under the Taliban threat,” said Shah Mahmood Naeemi, deputy chairman of Farah Provincial Council. According to him, the government only controls district centers of Bala Buluk, Anar Dara, Pusht-e-Koh, Lash Wa Juwayn, and Parchaman districts while the Taliban control all roads leading to the districts.

The Taliban militants put in military efforts to take over the strategic district of Anar Dara, says Abdul Sattar Hussaini, an MP who represents Farah in the Parliament. “The Taliban want to have a base in Anar Dara and control this district,” he said, warning that it would be very hard for the government to retain Anar Dara’s control once it is fallen to the Taliban.

To contain the situation, the MP called on the government to deploy more army forces to the province.

Farah’s governor, Taj Mohammad Jahid, however, denied speaking about the situation.

Farah is one of the most insecure provinces in western Afghanistan where the Taliban presence is growing and the militants have recently doubled offensives against the Afghan defense and security forces. In the latest attack, the Taliban overthrew an army base in Shiwan village of Bala Buluk district, killing more than 20 army soldiers on Sunday night, May 02.

In a second incident, as per the account of Abdul Jabbar Shayeeq, head of Farah’s directorate of public health, a grenade went off in PD2 of Farah city on Monday, May 03, wounding 18 people including children.

Badghis is under threat

Three months ago, the Taliban militants advanced to reach the gates of Qala-e-Naw, the capital city of Badghis province. But security forces have pushed them back, according to local officials.

Reports suggest that the militants have launched operations in many districts of Badghis since the beginning of Ramadan. “The Taliban have made the highways insecure and harass the people. The enemy (the Taliban) tries to spread insecurity in Badghis but we are ready to defend from Badghis,” said Hessamuddin Shams, governor of Badghis.

The Taliban had besieged the battalion in Bala Murghab district for more than three years and made it very hard for military helicopters to land and take off. Forced by the longtime siege of the Taliban, the government forces have recently retreated from the district. Moreover, to counteract the closure of road leading to Taliban controlled territories in Jawand district, suspension of a national aid distribution program in their territories by the local administration, the militants have closed the highway connecting Qala-e-Naw to Herat, stopped the operation of telecommunication companies, except the state-run Salaam, and cut the supply of electricity imported from Turkmenistan.

The roads leading to Jawand district have been closed and the Covid-19 relief program has been suspended upon the instruction of Badghis governor, said Abdul Aziz Beig, Chairman of Badghis Provincial Council. The Taliban have also cut all supply routes to Jawand’s district center which is under the control of the government forces for more than two years.

Badghis governor, meanwhile, believes that the Taliban’s action of closing Qala-e-Naw – Herat highway, stopping the operation of the telecommunication companies, and cutting the electricity supply would pressure the local residents and it would be counterproductive for the Taliban.

According to Mr. Beig, Jawand, Qadis, Ab Kamari, and Moqur districts of Badghis are under serious threats where the government forces only control the districts’ centers. The Taliban are present even in areas located one kilometer away from the district’s centers and sometimes they set up checkpoints on the routes, the councilman claimed. He called on the government to establish military bases across the Herat-Qala-e-Naw highway and on the roads leading to district centers in order to prevent the Taliban movements.

As per account of the local authorities, a key factor behind the growing violence in Badghis is the presence of Pakistani and Uzbek militants under the Taliban umbrella. Around 60 to 70 families of Uzbek militants are currently residing in Bala Murghab district under the protection of Juma Bi Uzbekistani, a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, said Mr. Shams.

Describing the Uzbek militant as a mastermind of making car bombs and explosives for the Taliban, the governor stated that the Taliban are using these foreign nationals to increase their attacks. “The Taliban use this man and his group in their large offensives.”

Taliban escalate attacks in Ghor

The Taliban militants have also intensified attacks in Ghor province with a particular focus on Taywara, Saghar, and on the western part of Ferozkoh, the capital city of the province. To suppress the Taliban, the province’s governor, Abdul Zaher Faizzadah, calls on the Ministry of Defense to equip and deploy more defense and security forces to Ghor.

On April 01, armed men stopped four passengers and shot them to death on Kabul – Ghor highway. Now, the governor assures that two military bases will be established along the highway in order to prevent further alike incidents.

As the governor says, the Taliban are attempting to capture this province and use it as connecting route for their fighters between the northern and southern provinces. “Unfortunately, the most extremist Taliban are present in Ghor and the past [administrations] has paid little attention to suppress the Taliban in this province,” the newly appointed governor complained about the performance of his predecessors in this regard.

Escalation in violence comes at a time as the foreign troops have already started withdrawal from Afghanistan and efforts are underway, especially by the United States, to encourage the Taliban to attend the postponed Istanbul conference for peace in Afghanistan. The Ministry of Defense claims that the Taliban have faced defeat in their recent large-scale attacks in western Afghanistan which has forced the group to resort to car bombings.

“Some key Taliban commanders have been killed in operations of government forces in the west part of the country. Currently, the Taliban has mobilized all its capacity to carry out car bombings against the Afghan people, particularly in western provinces,” said Fawad Amand, deputy spokesperson for the defense ministry.

He added that the Afghan defense and security forces have defused many car bombings of the Taliban before reaching their target.