Militia volunteers vow to fight to the death to protect Afghanistan’s third largest city of Herat


Bands of militia volunteers have vowed to fight to the death to protect Afghanistan’s third largest city from the lightning advance of the Taliban.

Desperate locals have answered an urgent call to arms from civil war era warlord Ismail Khan to shore up defences around Herat which is now effectively under siege.

Checkpoints on roads into the city are being manned.

Firefights with the Taliban have become a nightly occurrence on the city outskirts as civilians wait fearfully for the insurgents to break through.

A MailOnline reporter found makeshift defences of lines of rocks and rubble left in the road at one checkpoint, forcing motorists to slow down and weave around them.

Volunteers at a checkpoint protecting the city of Herat in Afghanistan 

Piles of rocks are providing flimsy defences at a checkpoint protecting the city of Herat

Piles of rocks are providing flimsy defences at a checkpoint protecting the city of Herat

The rocks put in place in recent days are thought to be an attempt to slow down any Taliban suicide bombers launching an attack in trucks or cars.

But the precautions and the seemingly relaxed atmosphere among militia fighters left some observers unimpressed at the nearby Sheidaei refugee camp.

One refugee who recently fled to Herat after his hometown in nearby Badghis province fell to the Taliban, said: ‘Look, they are just sitting and chatting, they are not aware of the people crossing.

‘I thought I rescued my family to a safer place, but now I live on the frontline of war. They may attack each moment. We are afraid of both the Taliban and government forces.’ 

Residents of Herat have been shocked by the sudden advance of the Taliban following the almost total withdrawal of US and British troops from Afghanistan.

Residents of Herat have been shocked by the sudden advance of the Taliban following the almost total withdrawal of US and British troops from Afghanistan

Residents of Herat have been shocked by the sudden advance of the Taliban following the almost total withdrawal of US and British troops from Afghanistan

Many residents were left fearing that the arrival of the Taliban was imminent with the Afghan Army reduced to guarding key installations.

Many residents were left fearing that the arrival of the Taliban was imminent with the Afghan Army reduced to guarding key installations.

There were scenes of panic in the city on Thursday last week when the hardline Islamic group seized nine districts of surrounding countryside in less than 12 hours.

Many residents were left fearing that the arrival of the Taliban was imminent with the Afghan Army reduced to guarding key installations.

But Herat’s former governor Ismail Khan who is known locally as Haji Amir Saeb stepped into the security breach by calling on his fighters to defend the city.

Khan who rose to power as a warlord leading a mujahideen force of his fellow Tajiks during the Soviet occupation quickly reinforced checkpoints and armed patrols.

He is still a revered figure, renowned for his opposition to Taliban rule, even though he is now aged in his 70s.

One of his followers Haji Nezam was asleep when he was called by his former commander’s office on Thursday last week and was ordered to report for duty

Speaking to MailOnline at his post in the southern security belt around the city, he said:

‘The call from Haji Amir Saeb’s office was very short.

Checkpoints on roads into the city are being manned.

Checkpoints on roads into the city are being manned.

Herat’s former governor Ismail Khan who is known locally as Haji Amir Saeb stepped into the security breach by calling on his fighters to defend the city.

Herat’s former governor Ismail Khan who is known locally as Haji Amir Saeb stepped into the security breach by calling on his fighters to defend the city.

Militia volunteers at a checkpoint protecting the city of Herat in Afghanistan from the lightning advance of Taliban insurgents

Militia volunteers at a checkpoint protecting the city of Herat in Afghanistan from the lightning advance of Taliban insurgents

‘They told me, “The enemy is entering the city. It is now your duty to defend the southern security belt”.

‘Since then, I am guarding here, and fighting with the Taliban some nights. I will stay here until I get a bullet in my head.’

As his men checked passing cars, he added: ‘I will not let the Taliban pass this post. We are here day and night for the liberty of our people.’

MailOnline visited the last area under Government control in the city’s southern security belt just a few hundred metres from the new Taliban front line.

Kamal Mujahid and his armed men were guarding the road with Ak-47s and rocket launchers on their shoulders.

He warned the MailOnline reporter: ‘Don’t go deeper. You will face a Taliban checkpoint just some hundreds meters away.

It comes as the militant group continues a sweeping offensive across Afghanistan following the US drawdown ahead of a complete withdrawal by August 31

Thousands of refugees from nearby districts and provinces have flooded in to Herat since war intensified on their doorsteps.

Thousands of refugees from nearby districts and provinces have flooded in to Herat since war intensified on their doorsteps.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees now estimates that an extra 270,000 Afghans have been newly displaced inside the country since January

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees now estimates that an extra 270,000 Afghans have been newly displaced inside the country since January

‘They wanted to explode that bridge last night, but we resisted and fought. We are here only for our people, to keep our people safe from these looters.

‘I had given my gun to Ismail Khan, and he gave me it back to defend the people. We are only waiting for our leader’s orders to go and liberate the districts, but Government forces don’t want that. They may want the credit for themselves, not us.’

MailOnline has learned that Ismail Khan gathered hundreds of his armed men at his home on Friday and announced the formation of his new ‘resistance movement’.

He called on ‘everybody with a gun’ to defend the city from the Taliban and any looters hoping to cash in on any deterioration in the security.

Khan told his supporters: ‘You can now see hundreds of armed men at my house, thousands gathered since yesterday. With the help of God we will go to the battlefield by this evening, and change the situation.’

Government officials in Afghanistan have pinned much of their hope on their US trained commandos.

MailOnline has learned that Ismail Khan gathered hundreds of his armed men at his home on Friday and announced the formation of his new ‘resistance movement’.

MailOnline has learned that Ismail Khan gathered hundreds of his armed men at his home on Friday and announced the formation of his new ‘resistance movement’.

The elite troops were seen on the ground in Herat this week, guarding the city’s prison, the governor’s office and intelligence headquarters

The resurgence of militias has heightened fears that Afghanistan could stumble into a war of attrition between the Taliban and forces allied to the Government with neither side able to land a killer blow.

The Government has maintained control of main cities while surrendering much of the countryside to the Taliban which ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist before being toppled in 2001.

The Taliban now has control over 15 of Herat’s 18 districts, apart from the provincial capital and two key areas which include the airport and army corps base.

Previously the insurgents had control of only one district, despite a heavy presence elsewhere in the country.

The group has also seized and closed two key border crossings to Iran at Islam Qala and Turkmenistan Tourqundi in western Herat province.

Armed supporters of former Mujahideen commander Khan, stand guard on a roadside checkpoint

Armed supporters of former Mujahideen commander Khan, stand guard on a roadside checkpoint

Taliban fighters have captured two Afghan border crossings with Iran and Turkmenistan, marching ahead with their rapid territorial gains after American troops started pulling out

Taliban fighters have captured two Afghan border crossings with Iran and Turkmenistan, marching ahead with their rapid territorial gains after American troops started pulling out 

Khan Mohammad, 15, is a refugee in Herat after his father was killed in crossfire during recent fighting between the Taliban and Government forces

Khan Mohammad, 15, is a refugee in Herat after his father was killed in crossfire during recent fighting between the Taliban and Government forces

The two crossings are used as an entry point for a huge number of goods into Afghanistan and there are fears that the Taliban will tax imports to bolster their funds and buy weapons.

Thousands of refugees from nearby districts and provinces have flooded in to Herat since war intensified on their doorsteps.

They include 15-year-old Khan Mohammad, who fled to Herat with his family after his father was killed during fighting between the Taliban and Government forces a week ago.

Speaking from in front of his makeshift shelter, the teenager told MailOnline: ‘My father was working on his land when fighting started.

‘He was killed in crossfire, then our district fell to the Taliban, and there was heavy fighting each night.

‘Two days after we buried my father, we left. I now take care of my mother and four sisters.

‘I arrived here three days ago, with around 2000 Afghanis (£18.22) and we are still using them. I don’t know what to do after we run out.’

The rocks put in place in recent days are thought to be an attempt to slow down any Taliban suicide bombers launching an attack in trucks or cars

The rocks put in place in recent days are thought to be an attempt to slow down any Taliban suicide bombers launching an attack in trucks or cars

Taliban fighters have captured two Afghan border crossings with Iran and Turkmenistan

Taliban fighters have captured two Afghan border crossings with Iran and Turkmenistan

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees now estimates that an extra 270,000 Afghans have been newly displaced inside the country since January, bringing the total population forced from their homes to more than 3.5 million.

The declining security situation has led to soaring prices in Herat for essentials such as flour, oil, rice and fuel as well as plane tickets to fly to Kabul.

The price of a sack of flour is said to have risen from 1800 to 2000 Afghanis – the equivalent of £16.40 to £18.22 – in recent days.

Officials in Herat have warned that food supplies could run low within a month unless supplies are allowed through.

One shopkeeper called Saboor said he and his family could not sleep last Thursday night when locals feared the Taliban would be entering the city in the darkness.

He said: ‘My children were coming and asking what’s going on and what will happen and I had nothing to tell them.’

Armed supporters of former Mujahideen commander Ismail Khan, stand guard on a road side check point

Armed supporters of former Mujahideen commander Ismail Khan, stand guard on a road side check point

Saboor was in no doubt that the Taliban would take over the city.

He added: ‘Of course we are civilians and they won’t harm us, hopefully, but when they arrive, looting will be started and that scares me a lot.’

Babar Baloch, a spokesman for UNHCR, told a news briefing in Geneva: ‘Afghanistan is on the brink of another humanitarian crisis. This can be avoided. This should be avoided.

‘A failure to reach a peace agreement in Afghanistan and stem the current violence will lead to further displacement within the country, as well as to neighbouring countries and beyond.’



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