A Wave of Afghan Surrenders to the Taliban Picks Up Speed
MEHTARLAM, Afghanistan — Ammunition was depleted inside the bedraggled outposts in Laghman Province. Meals was scarce. Some law enforcement officials hadn’t been paid in 5 months.
Then, simply as American troops started leaving the nation in early Could, Taliban fighters besieged seven rural Afghan navy outposts throughout the wheat fields and onion patches of the province, in japanese Afghanistan.
The insurgents enlisted village elders to go to the outposts bearing a message: Give up or die.
By mid-month, safety forces had surrendered all seven outposts after prolonged negotiations, in accordance to village elders. At the very least 120 troopers and police got secure passage to the government-held provincial heart in return for handing over weapons and gear.
“We advised them, ‘Look, your state of affairs is dangerous — reinforcements aren’t coming,’” mentioned Nabi Sarwar Khadim, 53, one of a number of elders who negotiated the surrenders.
Since Could 1, not less than 26 outposts and bases in simply 4 provinces — Laghman, Baghlan, Wardak and Ghazni — have surrendered after such negotiations, in accordance to village elders and authorities officers. With morale diving as American troops go away, and the Taliban seizing on every give up as a propaganda victory, every collapse feeds the subsequent in the Afghan countryside.
Amongst the negotiated surrenders had been 4 district facilities, which home native governors, police and intelligence chiefs — successfully handing the authorities services to Taliban management and scattering the officers there, not less than quickly.
The Taliban have negotiated Afghan troop surrenders in the previous, however by no means at the scale and tempo of the base collapses this month in the 4 provinces extending east, north and west of Kabul. The tactic has eliminated tons of of authorities forces from the battlefield, secured strategic territory and reaped weapons, ammunition and automobiles for the Taliban — typically with out firing a shot.
The bottom collapses are one measure of the quickly deteriorating authorities struggle effort as one outpost after one other falls, generally after battles, however typically after wholesale surrenders.
The surrenders are half of a broader Taliban playbook of seizing and holding territory as safety power morale plummets with the exit of worldwide troops. Buyoffs of native police and militia. Native cease-fires that enable the Taliban to consolidate features. A sustained navy offensive regardless of pleas for peace talks and a nationwide cease-fire.
“The federal government just isn’t ready to save the safety forces,” mentioned Mohammed Jalal, a village elder in Baghlan Province. “In the event that they combat, they are going to be killed, in order that they have to give up.”
The surrenders are the work of Taliban Invitation and Steerage Committees, which intervene after insurgents lower off roads and provides to surrounded outposts. Committee leaders or Taliban navy leaders cellphone base commanders — and generally their households — and provide to spare troops’ lives in the event that they give up their outposts, weapons and ammunition.
In a number of instances, the committees have given surrendering troops cash — sometimes round $130 — and civilian garments and despatched them house unhurt. However first they videotape the males as they promise not to rejoin the safety forces. They log their cellphone numbers and the names of members of the family — and vow to kill the males in the event that they rejoin the navy.
“The Taliban commander and the Invitation and Steerage Committee known as me greater than 10 instances and requested me to give up,” mentioned Maj. Imam Shah Zafari, 34, a district police chief in Wardak Province who surrendered his command heart and weapons on Could 11 after negotiations mediated by native elders.
After the Taliban supplied a automotive journey house to Kabul, he mentioned, a committee member phoned to guarantee him that the authorities wouldn’t imprison him for surrendering. “He mentioned, ‘We’ve a lot energy in the authorities and we will launch you,’” Main Zafari mentioned.
The Taliban committees take benefit of a defining attribute of Afghan wars: Fighters and commanders repeatedly swap sides, lower offers, negotiate surrenders and domesticate village elders for affect with native residents.
The present battle is absolutely dozens of native wars. These are intimate struggles, the place brothers and cousins battle each other and commanders on both sides cajole, threaten and negotiate by cellphone.
“A Taliban commander calls me all the time, attempting to destroy my morale, in order that I’ll give up,” mentioned Wahidullah Zindani, 36, a bearded, sunburned police commander who has rejected Taliban calls for to give up his nine-man, bullet-pocked outpost in Laghman Province.
The negotiated surrenders are half of a broader offensive by which the Taliban have surrounded not less than 5 provincial capitals this spring, in accordance to a Pentagon inspector common report launched Could 18. The offensive has intensified since the American withdrawal started Could 1. The Taliban have used their management of a number of main highways to lower off bases and garrisons, leaving them weak.
The surrenders have a profound psychological impact.
“They name and say the Taliban are highly effective sufficient to defeat the U.S. they usually can simply take Laghman Province, so it’s best to bear in mind this earlier than we kill you,” Rahmatullah Yarmal, Laghman’s 29-year-old governor, mentioned of the Taliban committees throughout an interview inside his barricaded compound in Mehtarlam, the provincial capital.
It’s an efficient propaganda tactic, the governor conceded — so efficient that some outpost commanders now refuse to communicate to elders or Taliban negotiators. He mentioned many elders weren’t impartial peacemakers, however handpicked Taliban supporters.
Mr. Yarmal mentioned 60 law enforcement officials who surrendered and took refuge in his authorities heart at the moment are primed to combat to retake the seven misplaced outposts. “I believe we’ll have them again in a month,” he mentioned.
However simply hours after the governor spoke on Could 19, a close-by district heart, Dawlat Shah, surrendered with none resistance after negotiations. By the subsequent morning, 5 extra outposts had surrendered the similar manner in the district of Alishing, additionally in Laghman, district officers mentioned.
These Taliban victories had been facilitated, partly, by a 30-day cease-fire negotiated by elders on Could 17 in the closely contested district of Alingar, permitting the Taliban to shift sources to Alishing, the place they pressured the negotiated give up of the 5 outposts simply two days later. (On Could 21, the Taliban violated the cease-fire with renewed assaults in Alingar, Mr. Khadim mentioned).
The collection of base collapses represented the second wholesale give up in a Laghman district in two weeks. On Could 7, three outposts and a navy base collapsed the similar manner with out a combat, mentioned Nasir Ahmad Himat, the Alingar district governor.
“The troopers merely dropped their weapons, obtained of their automobiles and went to the district heart or provincial capital,” mentioned Faqirullah, a village elder who goes by one identify.
As Taliban fighters superior on the provincial capital Sunday, Governor Yarmal introduced that 110 safety power members who had surrendered, and a number of other commanders who had been supposed to supervise them, had been detained for negligence.
Additionally Sunday, the Afghan navy introduced that troop reinforcements and the navy chief of workers had rushed to Laghman to attempt to repel the Taliban assault.
In Ghazni Province, Hasan Reza Yousofi, a provincial councilman, mentioned he begged officers to ship reinforcements to an outpost and a navy base that in the end fell to the Taliban this month. He performed a recorded cellphone name from a police officer, Abdul Ahmad, who mentioned his ammunition was gone and his males had been consuming rainwater as a result of the base water tower had been destroyed by a rocket.
“We’ve been bought out — we make requires reinforcements, however officers don’t assist,” the recorded voice mentioned. “The Taliban despatched us tribal elders who mentioned, ‘Give up, you’re bought out, nobody will enable you.’”
Mr. Yousofi mentioned he didn’t know whether or not Mr. Ahmad survived after his outpost fell.
Negotiations have confirmed remarkably fruitful for the Taliban in Baghlan Province, the place not less than 100 troopers surrendered, and in Wardak Province, the place about 130 safety power members surrendered following negotiations, officers mentioned.
In Laghman Province, negotiations main to the give up of the seven outposts stretched over 10 days. Mr. Khadim, the village elder, mentioned completely different elders negotiated with commanders of every outpost.
“We assured they’d not be killed,” he mentioned. “There was nothing written, simply our phrase.”
A few miles away, Commander Zindani refused to give up his forlorn outpost close to the entrance line. He mentioned officers who had negotiated surrenders at three close by outposts had betrayed their nation.
One of his males, Muhammad Agha Bambard, mentioned he would combat to avenge the deaths of two brothers he mentioned had been killed by the Taliban. He would by no means give up, he mentioned.
Commander Zindani’s 9 males had been down to a machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and one AK-47 rifle every inside a ramshackle outpost with bloodstained partitions. However he mentioned he meant to combat on — as he advised the Taliban commander who repeatedly phoned to demand his give up.
“I advised him, ‘I’m a soldier of my nation,’” the commander mentioned. “I’m not right here to give up.”
4 days later, on Sunday, the outpost was overrun throughout a firefight with the Taliban, a member of the provincial council mentioned. One police officer was shot useless and Commander Zindani and his outgunned males had been taken prisoner.
A few hours later, the Taliban launched a video displaying Mr. Bambard being questioned by a Taliban commander as he lay on a mattress, his face and neck bandaged. In a mocking tone, the commander requested why Mr. Bambard had posted on his Fb web page that he wouldn’t let the enemy seize his outpost whereas he was alive.
The wounded officer responded, “That is Afghanistan.”
Zabihullah Ghazi and Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting from Laghman Province.
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