A Wave of Afghan Surrenders to the Taliban Picks Up Speed

MEHTARLAM, Afghanistan — Ammunition was depleted inside the bedraggled outposts in Laghman Province. Food was scarce. Some cops hadn’t been paid in 5 months.

Then, simply as American troops started leaving the nation in early May, Taliban fighters besieged seven rural Afghan navy outposts throughout the wheat fields and onion patches of the province, in japanese Afghanistan.

The insurgents enlisted village elders to go to the outposts bearing a message: Surrender or die.

By mid-month, safety forces had surrendered all seven outposts after prolonged negotiations, in accordance to village elders. At least 120 troopers and police got secure passage to the government-held provincial middle in return for handing over weapons and gear.

“We told them, ‘Look, your situation is bad — reinforcements aren’t coming,’” mentioned Nabi Sarwar Khadim, 53, one of a number of elders who negotiated the surrenders.

Since May 1, no less than 26 outposts and bases in simply 4 provinces — Laghman, Baghlan, Wardak and Ghazni — have surrendered after such negotiations, in accordance to village elders and authorities officers. With morale diving as American troops go away, and the Taliban seizing on every give up as a propaganda victory, every collapse feeds the subsequent in the Afghan countryside.

Among the negotiated surrenders had been 4 district facilities, which home native governors, police and intelligence chiefs — successfully handing the authorities amenities to Taliban management and scattering the officers there, no less than briefly.

A handwritten word, signed by Taliban and Afghan authorities officers, outlining a cease-fire in Mehtarlam.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The Taliban have negotiated Afghan troop surrenders in the previous, however by no means at the scale and tempo of the base collapses this month in the 4 provinces extending east, north and west of Kabul. The tactic has eliminated a whole lot of authorities forces from the battlefield, secured strategic territory and reaped weapons, ammunition and autos for the Taliban — typically with out firing a shot.

The base collapses are one measure of the quickly deteriorating authorities warfare effort as one outpost after one other falls, typically after battles, however typically after wholesale surrenders.

The surrenders are half of a broader Taliban playbook of seizing and holding territory as safety power morale plummets with the exit of worldwide troops. Buyoffs of native police and militia. Local cease-fires that enable the Taliban to consolidate good points. A sustained navy offensive regardless of pleas for peace talks and a nationwide cease-fire.

“The government is not able to save the security forces,” mentioned Mohammed Jalal, a village elder in Baghlan Province. “If they fight, they will be killed, so they have to surrender.”

The surrenders are the work of Taliban Invitation and Guidance Committees, which intervene after insurgents lower off roads and provides to surrounded outposts. Committee leaders or Taliban navy leaders cellphone base commanders — and typically their households — and supply to spare troops’ lives in the event that they give up their outposts, weapons and ammunition.

Nabi Sarwar Khadim, one of the elders who negotiated the surrenders in Mehtarlam.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

In a number of instances, the committees have given surrendering troops cash — usually round $130 — and civilian garments and despatched them dwelling unhurt. But first they videotape the males as they promise not to rejoin the safety forces. They log their cellphone numbers and the names of members of the family — and vow to kill the males in the event that they rejoin the navy.

“The Taliban commander and the Invitation and Guidance Committee called me more than 10 times and asked me to surrender,” mentioned Maj. Imam Shah Zafari, 34, a district police chief in Wardak Province who surrendered his command middle and weapons on May 11 after negotiations mediated by native elders.

After the Taliban supplied a automobile journey dwelling to Kabul, he mentioned, a committee member phoned to guarantee him that the authorities wouldn’t imprison him for surrendering. “He said, ‘We have so much power in the government and we can release you,’” Major Zafari mentioned.

The Taliban committees take benefit of a defining attribute of Afghan wars: Fighters and commanders usually swap sides, lower offers, negotiate surrenders and domesticate village elders for affect with native residents.

The present battle is basically dozens of native wars. These are intimate struggles, the place brothers and cousins battle each other and commanders on all sides cajole, threaten and negotiate by cellphone.

“A Taliban commander calls me all the time, trying to destroy my morale, so that I’ll surrender,” mentioned Wahidullah Zindani, 36, a bearded, sunburned police commander who has rejected Taliban calls for to give up his nine-man, bullet-pocked outpost in Laghman Province.

Commander Wahidullah Zindani, middle, and Muhammad Agha Bambard, proper, at their outpost.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

The negotiated surrenders are half of a broader offensive through which the Taliban have surrounded no less than 5 provincial capitals this spring, in accordance to a Pentagon inspector common report launched May 18. The offensive has intensified since the American withdrawal started May 1. The Taliban have used their management of a number of main highways to lower off bases and garrisons, leaving them weak.

The surrenders have a profound psychological impact.

“They call and say the Taliban are powerful enough to defeat the U.S. and they can easily take Laghman Province, so you should remember this before we kill you,” Rahmatullah Yarmal, Laghman’s 29-year-old governor, mentioned of the Taliban committees throughout an interview inside his barricaded compound in Mehtarlam, the provincial capital.

It’s an efficient propaganda tactic, the governor conceded — so efficient that some outpost commanders now refuse to converse to elders or Taliban negotiators. He mentioned many elders weren’t impartial peacemakers, however handpicked Taliban supporters.

Mr. Yarmal mentioned 60 cops who surrendered and took refuge in his authorities middle are actually primed to combat to retake the seven misplaced outposts. “I think we’ll have them back in a month,” he mentioned.

Rahmatullah Yarmal, governor of Laghman Province, taking a look at the destroyed armored Land Cruiser that he was driving in when he was attacked by a suicide automobile bomber final October.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

But simply hours after the governor spoke on May 19, a close-by district middle, Dawlat Shah, surrendered with none resistance after negotiations. By the subsequent morning, 5 extra outposts had surrendered the similar method in the district of Alishing, additionally in Laghman, district officers mentioned.

Those Taliban victories had been facilitated, partially, by a 30-day cease-fire negotiated by elders on May 17 in the closely contested district of Alingar, permitting the Taliban to shift assets to the Alishing, the place they pressured the negotiated give up of the 5 outposts simply two days later. (On May 21, the Taliban violated the cease-fire with renewed assaults in Alingar, Mr. Khadim mentioned).

The collection of base collapses represented the second wholesale give up in a Laghman district in two weeks. On May 7, three outposts and a navy base collapsed the similar method with no combat, mentioned Nasir Ahmad Himat, the Alingar district governor.

“The soldiers simply dropped their weapons, got in their vehicles and went to the district center or provincial capital,” mentioned Faqirullah, a village elder who goes by one title.

As Taliban fighters superior on the provincial capital Sunday, Governor Yarmal introduced that 110 safety power members who had surrendered, and a number of other commanders who had been supposed to supervise them, had been detained for negligence.

Also Sunday, the Afghan navy introduced that troop reinforcements and the navy chief of employees had rushed to Laghman to strive to repel the Taliban assault.

In Ghazni Province, Hasan Reza Yousofi, a provincial councilman, mentioned he begged officers to ship reinforcements to an outpost and a navy base that in the end fell to the Taliban this month. He performed a recorded cellphone name from a police officer, Abdul Ahmad, who mentioned his ammunition was gone and his males had been ingesting rainwater as a result of the base water tower had been destroyed by a rocket.

“The Taliban come here at night and shoot at us,” mentioned Najibullah, a policeman at the outpost in Mehtarlam. “I can’t shoot back. My rifle magazine only has a few bullets. I brought a slingshot and a rock just in case. One of my friends got hit when a mortar landed where we sleep. His blood is still on the wall.” Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

“We have been sold out — we make calls for reinforcements, but officials don’t help,” the recorded voice mentioned. “The Taliban sent us tribal elders who said, ‘Surrender, you are sold out, no one will help you.’”

Mr. Yousofi mentioned he didn’t know whether or not Mr. Ahmad survived after his outpost fell.

Negotiations have confirmed remarkably fruitful for the Taliban in Baghlan Province, the place no less than 100 troopers surrendered, and in Wardak Province, the place about 130 safety power members surrendered following negotiations, officers mentioned.

In Laghman Province, negotiations main to the give up of the seven outposts stretched over 10 days. Mr. Khadim, the village elder, mentioned totally different elders negotiated with commanders of every outpost.

“We guaranteed they would not be killed,” he mentioned. “There was nothing written, just our word.”

A few miles away, Commander Zindani refused to give up his forlorn outpost close to the entrance line. He mentioned officers who had negotiated surrenders at three close by outposts had betrayed their nation.

One of his males, Muhammad Agha Bambard, mentioned he would combat to avenge the deaths of two brothers he mentioned had been killed by the Taliban. He would by no means give up, he mentioned.

Commander Zindani’s 9 males had been down to a machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and one AK-47 rifle every inside a ramshackle outpost with bloodstained partitions. But he mentioned he meant to combat on — as he instructed the Taliban commander who usually phoned to demand his give up.

“I told him, ‘I’m a soldier of my country,’” the commander mentioned. “I am not here to surrender.”

Four days later, on Sunday, the outpost was overrun throughout a firefight with the Taliban, a member of the provincial council mentioned. One police officer was shot useless and Commander Zindani and his outgunned males had been taken prisoner.

A few hours later, the Taliban launched a video exhibiting Mr. Bambard being questioned by a Taliban commander as he lay on mattress, his face and neck bandaged. In a mocking tone, the commander requested why Mr. Bambard had posted on his Facebook web page that he wouldn’t let the enemy seize his outpost whereas he was alive.

The wounded officer responded, “This is Afghanistan.”

Mr. Bambard, left, and Commander Zindani at at the police outpost final week, earlier than it was overrun by the Taliban. Both males had been taken prisoner. Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Zabihullah Ghazi and Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting from Laghman Province.