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Afghan Forces Seen As Being Overwhelmed in Northern Frontline

An Afghan soldier stands guard on a roadside in the Chahardara district of Kunduz.
An Afghan soldier stands guard on a roadside in the Chahardara district of Kunduz.

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan -- A strategic northern Afghan province bordering Central Asia is seen as a being progressively dominated by insurgents in a vicious offensive.

Pessimistic residents and lawmakers see Kunduz poised to be overrun by the Taliban and allied Central Asian militants who already control most rural areas in the province, which is separated by the Amu Darya river from Tajikistan.

Lawmaker Amruddin Wali, the deputy head of Kunduz provincial council, says that nearly four months of incessant fighting in Kunduz deeply worries its residents about their future.

Wali says the government's response so far has failed in preventing the Taliban from capturing new territories and consolidating their rule over the regions they have overrun since March.

"The situation here is deteriorating everyday. It is possible that the insurgents will overrun the provincial capital [also called] Kunduz at will," he told Radio Free Afghanistan. "They have already destroyed much of the infrastructure in the rural areas and can obliterate the few remaining buildings and roads in this city."

He says that out of the seven districts in Kunduz, the government only controls five district centers and is still in charge of Kunduz, a dusty city of an estimated 150,000 residents.

Sudden Taliban advances in Kunduz this spring forced Kabul to rush additional troops to the region. In late April, Afghan forces fought pitched battles on the outskirts of Kunduz city for days to prevent the provincial capital being overrun.

In late June, the Taliban overran the Chardara and Dash-e Archi districts that surround Kunduz city. The Afghan forces later claimed to have recaptured Chardara, but their control hardly extends beyond a few buildings in the district center and some check posts along major roads.

Observers say the rapid Taliban advances were made possible by their tactical alliance with Central Asian fighters. Thousands of fighters loyal to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan -- and its splinter groups the Islamic Jihad Union and Jundallah -- have swarmed Afghanistan's northern provinces in an effort to return to their home countries across the border after. A Pakistani offensive last year pushed them into Afghanistan.

Wali says the insurgent ranks are constantly swelling as they are joined by new fighters and are engaged in a somewhat successful propaganda campaign to attract the local youth to their ranks. In addition, the Taliban have imposed extortion on Kunduz farmers to replenish their war chest. "The Taliban are all set to launch a big offensive," he said.

Lawmaker Ghulam Rabbani agrees. He sees a major Taliban push to capture the provincial capital. "I can see the possibility that the Taliban will emerge more powerful after the end of the ongoing summer harvest and will capture the provincial capital," he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Kunduz civilians have paid a high price for the ongoing insecurity. Humanitarian organizations estimate the fighting has displaced more than 20,000 families in Kunduz. Civilians, mostly farmers, still living in the rural areas are being oppressed both by the Taliban and pro-government militias propped by local strongmen and Kabul to bolster government forces.

Ghuffran Arman, a resident of Kunduz city, says hearing constant small and heavy weapon fire worries him deeply. "Sometimes it seems shots are being fired inside the city and the government’s control is crumbling," he told Radio Free Afghanistan.

But Kunduz police chief Zmaray Paikan is adamant Afghan forces will ultimately prevail.

"The true face of our enemies is being exposed every day. Their ugly acts against the people of Afghanistan prove that they only work for foreign powers," he told Radio Free Afghanistan. "The Afghan security forces are committed to defending all Afghans."

Kunduz residents, however, are not optimistic. Najibullah Hashmi, 50, says that in reality the government control is crumbling fast.

"We have lost our homes and our crops, and the government should be ashamed of this," he said.

Written by Abubakar Siddique, based on reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Ajmal Aryan in Kunduz.