MAZAR-E-SHARF, Afghanistan – A powerful warlord in northern Afghanistan and a key US ally in the 2001 defeat of the Taliban blames a cranky Afghan government and an “irresponsible” US departure for recent rapid territorial gains by insurgents in the north .
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Ata Mohammad Noor, who is among those behind the latest attempt to stop the Taliban’s advances by creating more militias, told The Associated Press that the Afghan army is severely demoralized. He said Washington’s rapid exit left the Afghan military logistically unprepared for the Taliban onslaught.
In an interview at his lavish home in Mazar-e-Sharif, the main city in the north, he said that even he did not expect the Taliban’s quick victories, especially in neighboring Badakhshan province in the north. is of the country.
“It was surprising to me that in 24 hours 19 Badakhshan districts surrendered without a fight,” Noor said.
He said that in some areas the Taliban were few, perhaps too few to capture a district, but the military handed over their weapons and left. Reports and photos widely circulated on social media show government officials in the provincial capital of Faizabad boarding one of the last commercial flights to Kabul. The Afghan capital remains in the hands of the government.
Noor, 57, is one of the major players as Afghanistan enters what many fear will be a chaotic new chapter, with the final withdrawal of US troops and NATO. He commands a personal militia with thousands of fighters. Formerly governor of the province of Balkh, of which Mazar-e-Sharif is the capital, he still effectively heads the province. As head of Jamiat-e-Islami, one of the most powerful parties in Afghanistan, he wields influence throughout the north.
Although nominally united against the Taliban, he and other warlords are often bitter rivals. With the government weak and the insurgents winning, the potential for violent fragmentation is high.
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The Taliban’s capture of most of the remote Badakhshan province is particularly significant as the north has traditionally been the domain of allied warlords of the United States. It was the only province that was not under Taliban control during the group’s rule from 1996 to 2001. It was once a stronghold of Jamiat-e-Islami, the home province of one of the predecessors. de Noor as leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, killed by a suicide bomber in 2011.
Insurgents now claim control of more than a third of the 421 districts and district centers across Afghanistan. They also captured several border crossings with Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, opening up potential revenue for the Taliban and cutting off key transport routes. Islam Qala’s border post with Iran was the last to fall to the Taliban on Thursday.
Noor was harsh in his criticism of recalcitrant Afghan leaders, saying they often left the army without reinforcements in combat or even without food and paid soldiers’ salaries irregularly. He said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rules with a coterie of four, a reference to the president’s increasingly tight inner circle.
US President Joe Biden defended the pullout in a speech Thursday and said it would be completed by Aug.31. He called for greater unity among Afghan leaders, saying America has given the Afghan government the weapons, training and tools to maintain itself.
“The Afghan government, the leaders must come together,” Biden said. “They have the capacity. They have the strengths. They have the equipment. The question is whether they will?
Still, Noor said the signs of a discouraged army predated Biden’s announcement in mid-April that the United States was ending its “Eternal War,” noting that recruiting for the Afghan army was already down 60% and corruption was rampant.
“We then informed the government that they had to work on the morale of the military, that they had to be united, but they did not listen,” he said.
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Noor also criticized the Afghan government’s combat strategy, saying leaders of the Afghan national security and defense forces have abused their elite commando units. He said that included sending them into combat without proper preparation for reinforcements and resupplies, as well as ordering them to hold checkpoints, a job they are not supposed to do. The commandos were also not sufficiently rested, he said.
Although the Afghan Air Force has well-trained pilots, Noor said the fleet is overused and under-maintained. As a result “most of the planes are back on the ground. They cannot fly and most of them are out of ammunition,” he said.
Noor also called the rapid departure from the United States irresponsible. While Afghanistan appreciated the money and manpower America invested in the country, it did nothing to make Afghanistan self-sufficient, he said.
“We needed factories to produce our own ammunition and workshops to repair planes and other vehicles that were donated to Afghan forces,” Noor said. “But the international forces did not work to build a foundation, self-sufficiency in Afghanistan.”
Earlier this year, as the Taliban gained momentum, Noor was one of the first to push for the creation of new militias, calling it a “popular uprising”. Last month, the government launched a mobilization program, helping to arm and fund volunteers under local commands.
Noor said the new militias are as needed to help boost army morale as they are to fight the Taliban.
Yet he recognized the dangers. In the 1990s, militias and warlords, including Noor, waged a civil war that devastated Kabul, killed some 50,000 people and helped fuel the rise of the Taliban.
“There is a real possibility of civil war. It is a very dangerous possibility,” he said. He warned he would be stoked by Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, Russia and India – who all use Afghan factions to advance their interests.
The new mobilization program only adds more militias with uncertain loyalties to the mix of militias maintained by Afghanistan’s multiple warlords since the 1990s.
Besides Noor, they include Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum, accused of war crimes, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former terrorist declared by the United States, who is currently in Kabul and is a bitter enemy of Jamiat-e-Islami. de Noor for decades. Abdur Rasool Sayyaf’s past militias were linked to brutal crimes against the Hazara ethnic minority during the civil war of the 1990s. The religiously regressive Sayyaf also had close ties to al-Qaida and even managed camps in the 1990s. training with the terrorist group in the 1990s.
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A few kilometers from Noor’s house, he maintains a political office in a sumptuous complex, protected by armed guards and barricades. A group of his militiamen, some with assault rifles, others with machine guns, basked in the lush grounds. Their leader, Habibullah Rahman Orfan, said they would follow Noor anywhere and accept his commands wholeheartedly, calling him a “great” commander.
He said they would defend Mazar-e-Sharif, launch an offensive to recapture districts of Balkh province currently under the Taliban and stand ready to serve under Noor’s command.
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