Afghans say recent Taliban advances forced them to take up arms

Zahir Salangi, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament from the northern province of Parwan, had hoped to settle down on a “doshak” (cushion) to catch a quick nap when the sound of gunfire came pouring through the already damaged house he had set up as a base.

The volunteers say Taliban fighters routinely fire on them from the mountains surrounding the lush valley.

As Salangi rose to his feet, one of the fighters started to shout commands into the walkie-talkie. Piles of glass shards from previous gunfights broke into smaller pieces under the weight of his boots as he paced from one side of the room to the other.

“Respond! Don’t stop firing! Don’t leave them without an answer,” he said while the sounds of gunfire echoed from the mountaintops.

The men are among at least 500 local residents who have picked up guns in recent weeks as the September 11 withdrawal deadline of the United States’ forces creeps closer.

On Monday, Abdul Quayom Rahimi, governor of Logar province, gathered hundreds of men carrying guns and Afghanistan’s tricolour flag in the provincial capital, Pol-e Alam.While anti-Taliban volunteers had begun to appear in Logar earlier this year, Rahimi said he has had hundreds of men asking to join his force in recent weeks.

Rahimi said Monday’s gathering was a “deliberate, public show of strength”.

‘They spared no one’

Though the Ghorband Valley, 120km (74 miles) north of capital Kabul, has long been one of the most insecure districts of Parwan, the volunteers say recent events have compelled them to take up arms and defend their people against the Taliban.

In recent weeks, dozens of districts, including in Parwan, fell into Taliban hands. Many of those districts were retaken by Afghan forces within days.

But these men, most of them from Salang district, 95km (59 miles) to the east, say the stories they had heard of the Taliban’s actions in the days they held sway over the areas were too much to handle.

To prove his point, Daoud mentioned two recent incidents in which Taliban fighters and Afghan troops were killed.

“We gave the Taliban’s body back, they covered him with garlands and called him a martyr,” he said, standing near a military check post on the outskirts of the valley.

But Afghan forces were not accorded the same respect, said Daoud.

“A couple of days ago, Afghan soldiers were killed by one of their (Taliban) mines. We asked for what was left of the bodies back. They refused.”

Politicians such as Salangi and officials in Kabul are also trying to ease fears of discord between the fighter groups and the Afghan security forces.

Khan Agha Rezayee, a legislator from Kabul who has been in contact with the volunteer groups taking up arms in the northern provinces, said it is not uncommon to see them working with the traditional security forces.

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