Attacked by Taliban insurgents and threatened with the fundamentalist group’s return to power after 20 years, residents of Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city, panic, fearing an imminent massacre.
It is Jaelany Farhad, spokesperson for the local government, who is himself a likely target of assassination if the group manages to seize power in the region. “To imagine the Taliban controlling Herat is intolerable and unbearable,” he said, who answered Folha’s questions over audio to get around local connection difficulties.
“Anyone who remembers the five-year period they ruled knows what that looks like. Diet interferes in every part and every detail of our daily life. The presence of women is prohibited in schools and offices; men cannot choose their hairstyle or shave. There is no freedom. “
Located in the west of the country, about 800 kilometers from the capital and close to the Iranian border, Herat is one of three provincial capitals that were targeted by a coordinated Taliban attack over the weekend in the one of his worst offensives in a long time.
The other cities are Kandahar and Lashkar Gah. In the latter, capital of Helmand province (southwest of the country), the fighting left at least 40 dead and more than 100 wounded from Monday (2) to Tuesday (3), and the army requested to the 200,000 inhabitants to leave. Their houses.
In Herat, the Taliban tried last week to seize the international airport, located 10 km from the city. Half of the population was left without power after fighting damaged the power grid, and a guard patrolling a nearby UN facility died in an attack. The government regained control of the area around the airport on Saturday (31).
With the help of a voluntary popular militia, the army also recaptured some neighboring villages – where insurgents had invaded the homes of civilians to turn them into attack bases, according to reports – and prevented them from reaching. the center of the city. But the offensive continues, especially at night.
A government source told Al Jazeera that the Taliban currently has around 1,000 troops in Herat. Dozens of them were killed in the fighting over the weekend, according to the Defense Ministry.
Meanwhile, the capital is on hold, with shops and schools closed and “the confidence of the population seriously compromised”, according to Jaelany Farhad.
“The inhabitants are panicking, especially the younger ones, who have never lived through a war. They never even heard a shot and can now be suddenly attacked by guns and tanks. They are terrified.
According to British newspaper The Guardian, public officials are hiding documents to prevent the Taliban from destroying them or using them to identify and attack those working for the government in the event of an invasion.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan through brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, when it was ousted from power by the post-9/11 US-led invasion.
In May of this year, encouraged by the announcement that foreign troops would leave the country by August 31, the extremist group advanced into Afghan territory and recaptured several areas. From rural areas and villages, they also started attacking big cities, like Herat.
“If they win, it will be a massacre. A humanitarian catastrophe. We Afghans hope that the international community will help stop these attacks, ”said Farhad.
The spokesperson for the local government said he was ready to fight to the end to avoid taking the city. “Nobody wants the Taliban anymore. Personally, as a journalist and an official, I am ready to fight and be killed to prevent them from entering the city.