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Life Inside A Besieged Provincial Afghan Capital

FILE: A police graduation ceremony in Tarinkot, Afghanistan.
FILE: A police graduation ceremony in Tarinkot, Afghanistan.

TARINKOT, Afghanistan – Mohammad Nabi was displaced by a large Taliban offensive nearly three years ago.

Like tens of thousands of displaced civilians in central Afghan province, he still clings to the hope that one day he will return to his home in a remote village in central Afghanistan.

But unlike millions of Afghans who have faced exile and immigration to flee various cycles of the nearly four decades war in their country, Nabi is only 5 kilometers away from his home in Uruzgan Province.

He told Radio Free Afghanistan that abandoning his modest mud house in September 2016 in Garamab, a village near Tarinkot, the embattled capital of Uruzgan, has turned his family’s life upside down.

“Anyone who goes through our misery can feel our pain,” he said. “Just imagine abandoning you house, moving to a rented place, and then paying for everything including food, water, and other life essentials.”

Shah Wali, another resident of Garamab, says they are living in the hope that government forces will reclaim their village from the Taliban.

“Every day we wake up with the hope that our village will be recaptured,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “But by the evening we are disappointed that our village is not reclaimed [by government troops.].”

Tarinkot, a town of some 70,000 residents, narrowly escaped being overrun by hundreds of Taliban fighters in September 2016. While the insurgents were pushed away from the town center and key government buildings, Tarinkot is under a virtual Taliban siege with the rebels controlling territories around the beleaguered town.

Mohammad Karim Karimi, the deputy head of Uruzgan’s provincial council, counts weak provincial leadership and a lack of coordination among the security forces as the main government vulnerabilities that have allowed the Taliban to overrun large swathes of territories in Uruzgan.

The Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army comprise the bulk of fighting forces across Afghanistan. They are also supported by local police and agents of the Afghan National Security Directorate (NDS), the spy service.

But Ahmad Javed Khpalwak, an activist in Tarinkot, blames the central government in Kabul for the debacle in Uruzgan.

He cites the example of a recent prolonged firefight between government forces and insurgents near Tarinkot. “The government forces would have been able to reclaim a large area, but they did not receive any reinforcements or backup even when the clash continued for four hours,” he said.

Uruzgan’s acting governor, Attaullah Fazly, however, argues that the relative strength of the Taliban because of their large numbers have overwhelmed the comparatively fewer government troops.

“Many of the most senior Taliban come from Uruzgan, so they have a robust presence here,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “We have fewer troops under the local military brigade and the police force. The NDS also needs more resources. Overall, we also need to reform our forces.”

He says Kabul has promised to address his various proposals, which are focused on improving the situation in Uruzgan.

Muhammad Khitab Khenjari, the provincial police chief, says the Afghan forces are paying a heavy price for defending Uruzgan and other government-controlled territories in Uruzgan. He confirmed that Afghan forces sustained 1,100 casualties last year.

“We have killed hundreds of Taliban fighters during that period while hundreds more were injured,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “We cannot rapidly advance because our opponents use civilian homes as hideouts and shields.”

The Taliban, however, reject such claims. They frequently accuse the government and international forces of committing atrocities.

Many civilians in Uruzgan, particularly the tens of thousands displaced by fighting, are hoping for peace or that the government forces will somehow chase the insurgents out of their villages.

Written by Abubakar Siddique, with reporting from Uruzgan Province by Shareefullah Sharafat of Radio Free Afghanistan.