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Militias Join US, Afghan Forces to Try to Retake Kunduz From Taliban

An Afghan National Army soldier rests after he arrives in a camp outside Kunduz city, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 30, 2015.

American planes are bombing their supply lines; Afghan soldiers and police are fighting them on the ground; and now hundreds of militias are flocking to the northern Afghan city of Kunduz to fight the Taliban.

On Monday, the Taliban shocked many in Afghanistan by taking over the capital of Kunduz province. Since their demise in a U.S.-led military campaign in 2001, it’s the first time the Taliban have taken control of a provincial city.

President Ashraf Ghani has said his government is in control in the insurgency-infested province, and thousands of Afghan forces are battling the insurgents out of Kunduz city.

While U.S. warplanes have started pounding Taliban positions from the air, Ghani said he had not authorized bombing over Kunduz city. “Afghanistan has a responsible government, and it cannot and will not bomb its people in the middle of the city,” he said Monday at a news conference in Kabul.

Meanwhile, several former jihadi and anti-Taliban commanders have criticized the Afghan national unity government for what they say is “a weak response” to the Taliban’s resurgence, and some have said they’re sending forces to Kunduz.

Amanullah Ghozar, a member of parliament and a former Northern Alliance commander, said he had deployed “hundreds of fighters” to Kunduz. Ghozar wrote on his Facebook account that he personally commands the anti-Taliban militia army and assured Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah that the “enemy will be eliminated.”

An aide to Jan Ahmad, a jihadi commander whose weapons depot U.S. forces blew up in Parwan province in June in a “force protection” raid, said the commander was in consultation with Abdullah on how to respond to the war in Kunduz. The fall of Kunduz prompted Abdullah to cut short his stay in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, his office said.

Atta Mohammad Noor, the powerful governor of Balkh province and a prominent anti-Taliban figure, has also said, “I have ordered Balkh security officials to send forces to Kunduz, who should soon arrive there.”

Enemy of enemy

Human rights organizations have often criticized Afghan militias as predatory and accused them of grave human rights violations. There are concerns that the militias deployed to Kunduz could abuse noncombatants, fill up their pockets and exacerbate the situation.

It was not immediately clear whether the Afghan government would exercise oversight of the performance of jihadi militias.

Najib Danish, a spokesman for the interior ministry, refused to comment on the role of jihadi militias in the Kunduz war, but said the operations to drive back the Taliban were led by Afghan security forces.

There also are concerns that the anti-Taliban militias could complicate the government’s postwar rehabilitation and governance in Kunduz province.

Lawrence Korb, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, told VOA Dari that “in the short term they won’t, but in the long term I think what it will do is undermine the unity government and the Afghan security forces, because they don’t have the same agenda that Abdullah and Ghani have for the future of the country.”

Ghani and Abdullah, former election rivals, have just completed a year of joint government and already are facing tremendous challenges on security, governance and the economy.