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Taliban Threatening Key Northeastern Afghan Province

People flee amid ongoing fighting between government forces and Taliban militants, in Kunduz, on October 6.
People flee amid ongoing fighting between government forces and Taliban militants, in Kunduz, on October 6.

A week after they captured Afghanistan's sixth-largest city, Kunduz, the Taliban now stands on the footsteps of Faizabad, the capital of neighboring Badakhshan Province in northeastern Afghanistan.

Fierce fighting has been ongoing between government forces and Taliban militants in many parts of Badakhshan since the spring. On October 2, reports emerged that the Taliban had taken two key districts linking Faizabad to other provinces.

But these supply chains have apparently now been retaken and secured by government forces.

The provincial government in Badakhshan is now calling on former mujahedin fighters to defend their districts and has promised 1,000 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," said Zabihullah Ateeq, a former member of the provincial council in Badakhshan.

With the Taliban threatening the key districts of Baharak and Wardooj, the latter of which they have held at different points in the past 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 fighters to defend any attacks on the city itself. At a recent gathering, the chairman of the Ulama Council in Badakhshan Province and a former mujahedin commander, Haji 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 week after the Taliban briefly took Wardooj District on October 2 before Afghan forces recaptured it. Amid the weak defense, former mujahedin fighters are putting themselves forward as the city's saviors.

"I came here to make sure what happened in Kunduz does not happen here,” said Jahedullah, a young law student at Sadullah's rally.

The shockwaves from the Taliban's attack on Kunduz echoed across the region, but with the Taliban at the gates of the city, Faizabad residents are now caught up in what is an increasingly regional conflict.

Prices in the city's shops have skyrocketed as roads have become battlefields. The cost of basic everyday items -- milk, flour, cooking oil, and cement, for example -- has risen up to 50 percent in the past two weeks at Faizabad's main market, said shopkeeper Haidar Muhammad.

Petrol has nearly doubled in price, and mobile phone top-ups have quadrupled, said Faizabad resident Nematullah Qanay.

Demand for basic items has increased as at least 500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing the violence in Kunduz arrived in Faizabad over the past week, according to a spokesperson for the provincial branch of the Refugees And Repatriations Ministry, which said it has no resources to assist the unexpected influx of displaced families.

The provincial branch is awaiting further instructions from Kabul, said provincial spokesman Farotan.

Guldata, a middle-aged woman stranded with other women on a street in Faizabad, says 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. UNHCR distributed blankets, basic cooking utensils, and food, but the majority of aid has come through civil society efforts and NGOs.

After hearing of the plight of families fleeing Kunduz for Faizabad, an NGO founded by a local politician has housed roughly 90 people in a three-room house in the city. A charity run by Fawzia Koofi, a former woman lawmaker from Badakhshan, has also provided food and water to the homeless families.

"We left out of fear and arrived in Badakhshan Province at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night," says Jalil Rasooli, one of the 90 displaced persons being sheltered at 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,” he added.

As the battle rages on outside the city, Talabudin Ghiasi, deputy chairman of Badakhshan Provincial Council admitted that people taking up arms outside the framework of government forces could be problematic in the future, but given the security situation in Badakhshan, the battle knowledge of the former commanders could stop the Taliban from taking the city in the immediate future.