Hundreds of former “mujahideen” fighters and civilians in Afghanistan have felt compelled to take up arms as the Taliban increase attacks on government forces and claim more territory amid a withdrawal of foreign troops.

Armed men who are against Taliban uprising walk at their check post, at the Ghorband District, Parwan Province, Afghanistan on June 29, 2021.
Armed men who are against Taliban uprising walk at their check post, at the Ghorband District, Parwan Province, Afghanistan on June 29, 2021. (Reuters)

Hundreds of civilians and ex-mujahideen fighters are taking up arms as the last US-led international forces prepare to leave after two decades of fighting that ended with no clear victory for either side.

One such fighter is Dost Mohammad Salangi, who has felt compelled to take up arms to help the army repel a growing Taliban insurgency.

Fifty-five-year-old Solangi leads a small group of men to a look-out post high in the rugged hills of Parwan province, north of the Afghan capital Kabul.

Heavily bearded and wearing a traditional circular pakol hat to keep off the sun, he has a warning for the radical Taliban movement, which has increased attacks on Afghan forces and claimed more territory as foreign troops withdraw.

"If they impose war on us, oppress us and encroach on women and people's property, even our seven-year-old children will be armed and will stand against them," he told Reuters.

"We have to protect our country ... now there is no choice as the foreign forces abandon us," said Farid Mohammed, a young student who joined a local anti-Taliban leader from Parwan.

He was speaking as the German military concluded the withdrawal of the second largest contingent of foreign troops after the United States with around 150,000 soldiers deployed over the past two decades, many of them serving more than one tour in the country.

READ MORE: Taliban takes control of key Afghan district amid US troop withdrawal

Troop pullout

US President Joe Biden and NATO said in mid-April they would pull out the roughly 10,000 foreign troops still in Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York that prompted the mission.

The United Natio ns envoy for Afghanistan said this week the Taliban had taken more than 50 of 370 districts and was positioned to control provincial capitals as the country looked increasingly unstable as foreign military support ended.

Armed mainly with old assault rifles, pistols and grenade launchers, men like Salangi and Mohammed have joined local shopkeepers and traders as part of a loosely-formed Public Uprising Force trying to reclaim some of those areas.

Ajmal Omar Shinwari, a spokesman for the Afghan defence and security forces, said Afghans keen to take up arms against the Tali ban were being absorbed intro the structure of territorial army forces.

But some political analysts warn of the growing risk of a return to civil war as more groups took up arms.

Faced with rising violence, President Ashraf Ghani visited Washington in June to meet Biden, who pledged US support to Afghanistan but said Afghans must decide their own future.

Talks to try and find a political settlement in Afghanistan have stalled, although the head of the Afghan peace council has said they should not be abandoned despite the surge in Taliban attacks.

READ MORE: Germany completes troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

Top US general foresees civil war

The US's top general in Afghanistan on Tuesday gave a sobering assessment of the country's deteriorating security situation as America winds down its so-called “forever war.”

Gen. Austin S. Miller said the rapid loss of districts around the country to the Taliban — several with significant strategic value — is worrisome. 

He also cautioned that the militias deployed to help the beleaguered national security forces could lead the country into civil war.

“A civil war is certainly a path that can be visualised if this continues on the trajectory it’s on right now, that should be of concern to the world,” he said.

Miller also told a small group of reporters in the Afghan capital that for now he has the weapons and the capability to aid Afghanistan’s National Defense and Security Forces.

“What I don’t want to do is speculate what that (support) looks like in the future,” he said.

In meetings at the White House last week with President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah — the Afghan official tasked with making peace with the Taliban, President Joe Biden said the US was committed to humanitarian and security assistance to Afghanistan, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

But the president also said that keeping US soldiers in Afghanistan defied a peace deal the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban and that wasn't a risk he was prepared to take.

“Given the timeline set by the prior administration, that if we did not withdraw our troops, US men and women would be facing fire from on the ground and that was not something as the commander in chief, that he felt was acceptable,” Psaki said.

Washington signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020. 

It laid out the promise of a US withdrawal and commitments by the Taliban to ensure Afghanistan does not harbor militants that can attack the United States. The details of those commitments have never been made public.

The Taliban have accused Washington of breaking the agreement, which called for all troops to be out by May 1, the date the final withdrawal began. 

US officials have said the Taliban have made some progress, but it's not clear whether the insurgent group has kept its end of the deal.

The insurgent group issued orders to commanders against allowing foreign fighters among their ranks, but evidence continues to surface that non-Afghans are on the battlefield.

Still, Miller was insistent that only a political solution will bring peace to the war-tortured nation.

“It is a political settlement that brings peace to Afghanistan. And it’s not just the last 20 years. It’s really the last 42 years,” he said.

READ MORE: Karzai: US has failed in Afghanistan

Source: TRTWorld and agencies