Afghan forces deploy to counter Taleban assault

Afghan security officials check vehicles as Taliban took control of the Panjwai district, on the outskirts of provincial capital Kandahar, Afghanistan, on July 5, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KABUL (AFP,BLOOMBERG) -Afghan authorities on Tuesday (July 6) deployed hundreds of commandos and pro-government militiamen to counter the Taleban's blistering offensive in the north, that has seen more than 1,000 government troops flee into neighbouring Tajikistan.

Fighting has raged across several provinces, but the insurgents have primarily focused on a devastating campaign across the northern countryside, seizing dozens of districts in the past two months.

"We are planning to launch a big offensive to retake the lost territories from the enemy," Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence told AFP.

"Our forces are being organised on the ground for this operation."

Afghan defence officials have said they intend to focus on securing major cities, roads and border towns in the face of the Taleban onslaught, launched as US and Nato troops pressed ahead with their final withdrawal in early May.

Tens of thousands of Afghan families are fleeing to escape the Taleban's rapid advance into the country's northern region, part of a larger refugee crisis that is brewing as the US speeds up its troop withdrawal after two decades of war.

The militants have burned down farmland and forced citizens to leave their towns and villages, Nr Mohammad Amiri, a deputy spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said by phone on Monday (July 5).

"The Taleban prefers violence over talks and has accelerated its violence nationwide in order to achieve its own political agenda," Mr Amiri said.

The fresh wave of internal displacement - largely across the provinces of Badakhshan, Kunduz, Balkh, Baghlan and Takhar - comes as the Taleban has captured large swathes of rural territory in the region after harsh battles with Afghan forces.

At least 1,000 Afghan troops have also been forced to retreat to neighbouring Tajikistan after brutal attacks, according to TASS news agency.

Two Central Asian nations neighbouring Afghanistan on Monday raised the alarm with Russia over the Taleban's moves, with President Vladimir Putin holding phone talks with his counterparts from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan about the escalation, the Kremlin said.

The Russian leader pledged help for the Tajik authorities to deal with the increased fighting on the border area, it said on its website.

Taking control

The Taleban have taken over most of Kunduz province and are now pushing toward the capital, Kunduz city, Mr Mohammad Yousuf Ayubi, the head of the provincial council, said by phone.

In recent weeks, hundreds of residents left the city to take refuge in neighbouring Mazar-e-Sharif or the capital, Kabul.

The group now controls about half of the country's 400 districts, 130 of which it's taken since April.

Afghanistan Ministry of Defence said in a statement that it's developing a military plan to retake the fallen districts in the north and protect the provincial capitals and border towns from the Taleban advance.

It said in the past month hundreds of Taleban militants were killed or wounded in airstrikes or during ground operations.

The deepening crisis follows the US announcement that it was withdrawing troops from the country in mid-April.

Last week US forces handed the Bagram Airfield - their largest military base - to the Afghan government as part of its plan to completely exit the country by Sept 11.

The Biden administration has also asked three Central Asian nations to temporarily house at least 9,000 Afghan civilians who worked with American forces and could be targeted by the Taleban as US and Nato troops look to withdraw after nearly two decades.

Refugee crisis

In a phone call on Sunday, Mr Ghani thanked Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon for providing shelter and cash to Afghans who fled the "Taleban onslaught and oppression" in the past month, Amiri said.

Mr Ghani said Kabul would send an aircraft to help bring the refugees back to Afghanistan, the spokesman added.

"There've been Afghan refugee crises for years, but we're on the cusp of a particularly large one," Mr Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Asia Programme and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Wilson Centre, said in a tweet on Monday.

"It will most impact Iran and especially Pakistan, the two countries with the largest number of Afghan refugees, but also Europe, a more recent destination for those fleeing Afghanistan."

About five million Afghans were internally displaced between 2012 and 2020 and over three million left the country in the same period, according to data from the International Organisation for Migration.

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