Hasty US goodbye left Afghan military logistically unprepared for Taliban onslaught, says Ata Mohammad Noor, who is among those behind latest bid to halt Taliban advances by creating more militias.
A powerful warlord in northern Afghanistan and a key US ally in the 2001 defeat of the Taliban has blamed a fractious Afghan government and an "irresponsible" American departure for the insurgents' recent rapid territorial gains across the north.
Ata Mohammad Noor, who is among those behind the latest attempt to halt the Taliban advances by creating more militias, told The Associated Press on Friday that the Afghan military is badly demoralised.
He said Washington's quick exit left the Afghan military logistically unprepared for the Taliban onslaught.
19 districts surrendered 'without a fight'
In an interview at his opulent home in Mazar-e-Sharif, the main city of the north, he said that even he had not expected the Taliban's rapid wins, particularly in nearby Badakhshan province in the country's northeast corner.
"It was surprising for me that in 24 hours, 19 districts of Badakhshan were surrendered without a fight," said Noor.
He said in some areas the Taliban were small in number, perhaps even too few to capture a district, yet the military handed over their weapons and left.
Reports and photos widely shared on social media show some government officials in the provincial capital of Faizabad boarding one of the last commercial flights to Kabul.
The Afghan capital remains in government hands.
Violent fragmentation remains high
The 57-year-old Noor is one of the powerhouse players as Afghanistan enters what many fear will be a chaotic new chapter, with the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops.
He commands a personal militia with thousands of fighters.
Once the governor of Balkh province, where Mazar-e-Sharif is the capital, he effectively still runs the province. As head of Jamiat-e-Islami, one of Afghanistan's strongest parties, he wields influence across the north.
Though nominally united in opposition to the Taliban, he and other warlords are often bitter rivals.
With the government weak and the insurgents gaining, the potential for violent fragmentation is high.
Taliban 'control' over third of 421 districts
The Taliban's capture of most of the remote Badakhshan province is particularly significant because the north has traditionally been the domain of the US-allied warlords.
It was the only province that didn't come under Taliban control during the group's 1996-2001 rule.
It was once a Jamiat-e-Islami stronghold, the home province of one of Noor's predecessors as its leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, killed by a suicide bomber in 2011.
The insurgents now claim control over more than a third of the 421 districts and district centres across Afghanistan.
They have also captured several border crossings with Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, opening up potential revenues for the Taliban and cutting key transportation routes.
Taliban fighters captured Afghanistan's key border crossing with Turkmenistan on Friday, as the insurgents continued a blistering offensive across the country.
"The important Torghundi border port has been fully captured," Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgents, told reporters on Friday.
Afghanistan's Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said security forces at the port had been "temporarily relocated" and efforts had been launched to recapture the crossing.
READ MORE: Kabul scrambles as Taliban seizes Turkmenistan, Iran border crossings