Officials in Afghanistan are warning that the growing number of districts being overtaken by the Taliban could create a sense of inevitability that the insurgents will take over once U.S. and NATO troops leave, even though the country's security forces are expected to be strong enough to keep the government in power.
On Saturday and Sunday, Taliban fighters took over almost two dozen of Afghanistans' 387 districts, after having already seized about 30 others nationwide since early May, reports The Wall Street Journal. The insurgents have also reached several provincial capitals, and have been releasing videos of themselves inspecting headquarters locations that were either lost through battles or were surrendered.
Nearly two dozen of Afghanistan’s 387 districts were taken over by the Taliban, mostly in northern Afghanistan, on Saturday and Sunday, adding to some 30 others seized by the insurgents across the country since early May, according to local reports. The Taliban have also reached the outskirts of several provincial capitals.
Afghan security forces number about 260,000 troops and have been trained by the United States and allies for almost the past 20 years, but they are overstretched and without U.S. air support are left to focus on major population centers, rather than many of the remote districts being overtaken by Taliban troops.
Many of the districts being taken over were surrendered to the Taliban through negotiations.
Saturday, President Ashraf Ghani, who will meet with President Joe Biden at the White House Friday along with the chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah on Friday to discuss U.S. troop withdrawal among the surge of Taliban fighting, appointed a new defense minister, Gen. Bismillah Khan, to replace a predecessor who has been ill for several months.
He also named Gen. Wali Ahmadzai as the new army chief of staff, and a new interior minister, Gen. Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal, to oversee the police forces.
“We will not surrender to terrorists. We will not surrender to ominous plans,” Ghani said Saturday while introducing the new ministers.
But fears of surrender were voiced this week during a meeting between Afghan activists and Afghanistan's chief peace negotiator, Abdullah Abdullah, who will also be in Washington on Friday.
“I told categorically, with 1,000% assurance, no, that is not the plan, but the fact that people are thinking this way, this in itself gives you the picture,” Abdullah said after the meeting about the fears of surrender. "Perhaps the same thing goes in the mind of those soldiers who are defending the country. That in itself has consequences.”
Fazel Fazly, the director-general of Ghani’s administration, said that he expects the Taliban's offensive to grow during U.S.-sponsored peace talks in Qatar. He added that July through September are expected to be the worst months, when Pakistan religious schools will be on holiday, freeing fresh recruits to the Taliban.
“We don’t expect any substantive talks in Doha or anywhere else vis-à-vis peace negotiations in the next five to six months. Both Pakistan and the Taliban want to test the [Afghan security forces] first and to hold some ground—more populated areas plus provincial capitals,” Fazly said. “We have to defend ourselves. We may lose some ground in certain areas, but that is now fully managed by the Afghan government.”
Last week, the government said it will arrest local officials who try to mediate deals for surrender between Taliban and security forces. However, in one northern province, seven out of 16 districts fell to the Taliban recently after elders mediated a surrender of the Baharak district.
The Taliban executed the district head of the National Directorate for Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, but allowed 78 soldiers to leave as long as they abandoned their weapons, according to Salahuddin Borhani, a member of the Takhar provincial council.
A Taliban video showed assault rifles, heavy machine guns, and several American-supplied Humvees left behind.
“How can a government that is unable to support its own soldiers and lets a district fall under Taliban control going to arrest the elders who live there?” Borhani said, adding that the soldiers fought for three days before running out of ammunition.
"If the government cannot support their forces through air or ground, the rest of soldiers see this, and it breaks their morale: they understand that if they have no backup, the result of their fighting will be death," he added.
Sandy Fitzgerald ✉
Sandy Fitzgerald has more than three decades in journalism and serves as a general assignment writer for Newsmax covering news, media, and politics.
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