Ghorband Valley, Afghanistan – Zahir Salangi, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament from the northern province of Parwan, had hoped to sit on a “doshak” (pillow) to get a quick nap when the sound of wildfire came pouring in. already damaged house that he had installed as a base.
“I haven’t slept in four days,” he told Al Jazeera last week as he set out to place orders for the nearly two dozen volunteer fighters he had recruited in the fight against the Taliban.
Volunteers say Taliban fighters are shooting at them from the mountains surrounding the lush valley.
As Salangi stood up, one of the fighters began shouting commands on the walkie-talkie. Piles of glass fragments of old-fashioned rifles shattered into smaller pieces under the weight of their boots as they passed from one side of the room to the other.
“Answer!” Don’t stop shooting! Don’t leave them unanswered, ”he said as the sound of wildfires echoed from the tops of the mountain.
The men are among at least 500 local residents who have taken up arms in recent weeks as the September 11 withdrawal deadline for U.S. forces approaches.
On Monday, Abdul Quayom Rahimi, governor of Logar province, gathered hundreds of men carrying rifles and the tricolor flag of Afghanistan in the provincial capital, Pol-e Alam.
While anti-Taliban volunteers had begun appearing in Logar earlier this year, Rahimi said he had hundreds of men demanding to join forces in recent weeks.
Rahimi said Monday’s assembly was a “deliberate and public demonstration of force.”
“People know what’s at stake and they want to show the Taliban that even if no one is around to help, the people of Logar and all the provinces will take the fight directly,” he told Al Jazeera,
“They didn’t spare anyone”
Although the Ghorband Valley, 120 km (74 miles) north of the capital Kabul, has long been one of Parwan’s most insecure districts, volunteers say recent events have forced them to take the arms and defends its people against the Taliban.
In recent weeks, dozens of districts, including Parwan, have fallen into the hands of the Taliban. Many of these districts have been retaken by Afghan forces in a matter of days.
But these men, most of them from the Salang district, 95 km (59 miles) to the east, say stories they had heard about Taliban actions in the days leading up to the early areas were too much to manage.
“They shoot directly at houses.” They burned people’s houses, their fields, their warehouses. They spared no one and nothing, ”he told Al Jazeera Daoud, a 50-year-old volunteer fighter who arrived in Ghorband more than two weeks ago.
To demonstrate his point, Daoud mentioned two recent incidents in which Taliban fighters and Afghan troops were killed.
“We surrendered the body of the Taliban, covered it with garlands and called him a martyr,” he said, near a military checkpoint on the outskirts of the valley.
But Afghan forces did not have the same respect, Daoud said.
“One day ago, Afghan soldiers were killed by one of their mines (Taliban). We wondered what was left of the bodies behind. They refused. “
Politicians such as Salangi and officials in Kabul have also tried to calm fears of discord between militant groups and Afghan security forces.
Khan Agha Rezayee, a Kabul lawmaker who has been in contact with groups of volunteers taking up arms in the northern provinces, said it is not uncommon to see them working with traditional security forces.
“When you go to these areas, you will see that volunteers are here to help the army and police in their operations,” he told Al Jazeera.
In the twenty years of U.S.-led invasion, Afghan security forces have also struggled with funding and lack of supply. Revolt forces are destined to act as a way to mitigate these shortcomings.
Amir Amiri, an Afghan soldier originally from the nearby province of Panjshir, praised the commitment of the volunteer forces.
“They put their lives in danger without pay to protect their homeland,” he said, posing next to a white-bearded man in the late 1960s.
“Look at him, he’s so old and he’s always willing to defend the nation against the enemy.”
Legislator Salangi said admiration goes both ways. “It raises the morale of our troops to see people leave their lives and families to come and support them in their struggle.”
The idea of groups of volunteers providing a moral boost to the troops was born several times during conversations with civilian fighters who spoke to Al Jazeera.
Volunteers said the outbreak of recent Taliban attacks has forced them to join the fight.
Defense Minister spokesman Fawad Aman said the fact that Afghans are willing to take up arms and fight alongside their security forces is a clear sign of the “hatred and disgust” that the Afghan people care about the Taliban and their practices.
Aman said the common people are ready to fight alongside the security forces because the forces are willing to make the “final sacrifice” against the Taliban’s “ungodly war”.
Many Afghans support a recent wave of nearly 30,000 people taking up arms across the country, while others question the wisdom of arming so many people in a country where millions of dollars have been poured into disarmament and reintegration programs.
Both Salangi and Rezayee say people should not fear volunteer groups. “These people are just protecting what’s left of them,” Rezayee said.
Rezayee added that the Taliban’s efforts to take over large cities was another motivating factor that led to the growth of groups of armed volunteers.
He said volunteer forces are nothing new in the country and just an extension of previous efforts such as the Afghan Local Police, which has seen the creation of US-funded forces from the UK and the UK that were responsible for repelling the Taliban attacks at the country level.
There have also been movements by other peoples to drive armed opposition groups out of the country. In 2017, residents in several districts of the eastern province of Nangarhar took up arms against forces they say belong to the so-called Islamic State.
Back in Ghorband, the yellow house continues to shake from the constant sounds of gunfire. The fighting, which began around 10 a.m., continued until the afternoon.
But to the voluntary forces, no fear or fatigue could keep them from their work.
“We are here to protect the people,” Salangi said placing his pakol hat on his head and walking out the door to command his fighters to take revenge.