Did 77 members of the Afghan security forces really join the Taliban?
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The Taliban has published a propaganda video in which they claimed that 77 members of the Afghan security forces had defected and joined their ranks. The video, which included footage of the purported recruits, shocked many Afghans. However, police authorities denied that these men were police officers, and our Observer – and expert on the Taliban in Afghanistan – says they are villagers who were forced to join the extremist group.
The video, which started circulating online on October 11, shows dozens of Afghan men in civilian clothing pledging their loyalty to the “Islamic Emirate,” the name that Taliban fighters call their group. A man behind the camera says that these men are military and police officers, and that they have “understood” the error of their ways and decided to join the Taliban.
He asks the men to introduce themselves, and several of the men then give their name and the name of the village they are from – all villages in the northeastern Kunduz province. They then chant “down with [Afghan president] Ashraf Ghani; down with [Chief Executive] Abdullah Abdullah; down with the USA; down with Trump” and “long live the Islamic Emirate.”
A member of the Taliban is then seen handing clemency papers to each of the men.
When contacted by FRANCE 24, a spokesperson for the Afghan army, Dowlat Vaziri, denied that the men in the video were security forces. “No one from the security forces has joined the Taliban in that region,” he said.
“When these “recruits” are sent to the battlefield, they’ll be used as shields”
Our Observer Mokhtar Wafayi is an Afghan journalist who is a specialist on jihadist movements. According to him, these men were actually just local residents who took up arms to defend their villages in Kunduz province, where the Taliban has been gaining ground. Wafayi has been in touch with people from several of the villages mentioned in the video, who were able to confirm that the “recruits” were actually captured by the Taliban and forced to join their ranks.
When the Taliban take over a region, the men who haven’t managed to run away are forced to either join the Taliban or get killed. The Taliban do not trust most of these new recruits, since they do not know them, so they usually confiscate their guns. In some cases, they might trust the locals and let them keep their guns, but in any case, they’ll be under strict surveillance, and when these “recruits” are sent to the battlefield, they’ll be sent out front – and used as shields. Moreover, they are not given salaries nor do they get their share of the spoils of war, like the regular Taliban fighters do.
When Afghan security forces run into these forced recruits on the battlefield, or if they arrest them, these poor souls will face the same fate as the real Taliban. However, when the army liberates cities or villages, they won’t bother people who just claimed “loyalty” to the Taliban to save their lives – but who weren’t asked to fight for them.
The claim that the men in the video were police officers rattled many Afghans because it is not unprecedented for security forces – and even politicians – to willingly join the Taliban. Moreover, the group’s numbers have been swelling recently.
In a speech on October 12, Hanif Atmar, the national security advisor to the Afghan president, claimed that the number of Taliban fighters had increased threefold in the last seven years.
The Taliban is gaining ground in Afghanistan for several reasons. First, the Afghan government doesn’t have a clear policy towards this group – at times, it wanted to negotiate with them, going so far as to call them “brothers” and releasing fighters from prison, while at other times, it treated them as the public enemy number one and cracked down with an iron fist.
Secondly, the government hasn’t been capable of eradicating poverty, providing security and providing education in vast areas of Afghanistan. The Taliban used this vacuum of power to promote their ideology in as many regions as they could. People in these regions hate the government more than the Taliban; in many villages, if you express a favorable attitude to the government you may run into trouble, whereas if you do the same for the Taliban, it’s okay.
A decade ago, the Taliban didn’t have much presence in Kunduz province, but now, they control about 80 percent of the region, and have a military presence near many of the main cities.
According to experts from the Institute for the Study of War, the Taliban are present in about half of Afghanistan and control vast swaths of the country. They have recently returned to regions from which they had previously been purged.