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Afghans fear for their lives amid Taliban advances

Shamil Shams | Masood Saifullah
August 9, 2021

Civilians are caught in the middle of an intense fighting between the Afghan army and the Taliban. Many Afghans complain that the West has left them at the mercy of the Islamist group.

An Afghan carries a wounded child to the hospital in Badghis province
Civilian casualties mount as the Taliban launch attacks on cities across AfghanistanImage: Mirwis Omari/AP/picture alliance

The Taliban took control of the northern provincial capital of Kunduz over the weekend as they continue their attacks on Afghan forces. They have also seized two other provincial capitals — Sar-e-Pul and Taleqan — whereas the fighting is ongoing in Lashkar Gah, Herat and Kandahar.

Taliban battlefield gains come amid the withdrawal of NATO forces, which has left President Ashraf Ghani's government in a vulnerable position amid the insurgents' assaults.

There are reports of heavy civilian casualties in several cities that are currently being targeted by the Taliban.

"The situation is unbearable for people in Kunduz. The Taliban have seized Kunduz city and they are in control of all government facilities," Mehrabuddin Hakimi, a resident of Kunduz province, told DW.

"Markets, shops and houses have been destroyed due to the heavy fighting [between the Taliban and Afghan forces] and continuous bombing. Some hospitals are operating, but they are overwhelmed by wounded people," Hakimi said, adding that the streets of Kunduz were deserted.

Niria Hotak, a resident of the southwestern Nimruz province, told DW that the Taliban are "using locals as human shields" in the area.

"They are entering houses and asking locals to provide them food," Hotak said.

Civilians pay the price once again

Halim Sadaf Karimi, a lawmaker from the northern Jawzjan province, says people are losing hope as a result of the Taliban gains.

"The Taliban are threatening civilians. Everyone is concerned. Civilians are paying the price for all this," he told DW.

Nimruz province resident Hotak said Afghan security forces "did not put up a fight against the Taliban and handed over the city to them."

"Government officials have fled to Iran, but locals do not even have this option. They are left at the mercy of the Taliban," she added.

Where is the international community?

The US has come under heavy criticism for leaving Afghanistan "prematurely" and without a proper peace deal between Afghan stakeholders.

The Taliban succeeded in capturing most of the new territories after President Joe Biden announced an unconditional withdrawal of US forces from the country in February. American officials at the time said that Afghan forces could defend the country from the Taliban.

"We had urged the Afghan government and the international community for months to secure our city, but no one paid attention to our pleas," Karimi, from Jawzjan province, said.

"The international community is also responsible for what is happening in Afghanistan right now. It gave legitimacy to the Taliban by signing a peace deal with them. And now that the Taliban are committing war crimes in our country, the international community is not even condemning these acts," he added.

Afghanistan women worry for their future

Can Afghan forces defend Kabul?

Assdullah Nadim, a Kabul-based military expert, told DW that if the situation on the ground didn't change, "Kabul could fall to the Taliban" within months.

"But I believe that the Taliban will focus on provincial capitals for now. An attack on Kabul will put them in direct confrontation with foreign countries, which still have a presence there," he said.

According to media reports, the US sent B-52 bombers, AC-130 gunships and fighter jets to Afghanistan Saturday to help the Afghan forces against the Taliban, a move reportedly slammed by the Islamist group as a violation of their Doha deal with Washington in 2020.

"Afghan forces face a political and management crisis. They are also lacking crucial NATO air support," Nadim said. "But it is unlikely that NATO and other Afghanistan allies will interfere in the Afghan war."

Nadim believes the international community has not abandoned Afghanistan, as it continues to fund and support Kabul. "The current situation is a result of the mismanagement by the Afghan government."

Gul Afroz Ibtekar, an official at Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, is optimistic that the Afghan army will prevail.

"The withdrawal of international forces has had a negative impact on the security situation, but I am sure that Kabul will not fall to the Taliban," she asserted.

"The situation is similar to the 1990s when the Mujahidin took over the country. But the Afghan government did not have the support of the international community at the time."