The situation in Afghanistan's northern Faryab Province, which borders Turkmenistan, has become critical. Militants who started attacks in the province in early July have seized more than 100 villages in little over a week.
On July 15, the chief of the Faryab Provincial Council, Sayed Abdul Baki Hashami, told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, that local pro-government paramilitary groups are retreating in almost all areas of Faryab and that the provincial capital, Maymana, is in danger of falling to militants.
Hashami said these local pro-government forces, which he called the "People's Resistance Front," are the province's only defense against enemy forces in Faryab. Despite government promises to launch an operation in the province to repel the militants, he said, there are no signs on the ground of that happening.
"They [the government] continue to say every day that we have sent forces and will start a [military] operation," he said, adding that the only help local militia forces have received came from the Directorate of National Security and it was "only their support that has allowed the People's Resistance Forces to hold ground."
"We don't have a government in Faryab" at the moment, Hashami said. He added that district centers are still under the control of pro-government fighters but "outside district centers, most areas are under Taliban control."
Hashami mentioned that militia forces had been fighting militants in Faryab's Almar district for two weeks, and he credited lawmaker Fathullah Qaysary for coming to the area a few days earlier with supplies of ammunition. Hashami said Qaysary saved the militiamen in Almar from perishing, but he also said pro-government fighters were forced to withdraw, abandoning 32 villages to the Taliban.
Afghanistan's Tolo TV reported on July 14 that "the Taliban have taken control of 30 villages in Qaysar district, 40 villages in Almar district, and 35 villages in Shirin Tagab district over the past three days."
Hashami said that in Almar, the Taliban and their foreign militant allies burned the homes of anyone suspected of belonging to or helping pro-government fighters.
Hashami said people in the province are "in a desperate situation" and blamed a lack of government support. "I've been telling the government dozens of times that these areas are going to fall to the Taliban and the situation is deteriorating. I told the interior minister, the defense minister, and the presidential administration," Baki said.
Afghanistan's vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, has reportedly cut short medical treatment in Turkey to return to Afghanistan. In comments to Azatlyk on July 15, Dostum spokesman Sultan Fayzi confirmed that Dostum would soon travel from Kabul to Faryab.
Fayzi said Dostum was "planning on meeting with the president, and after this meeting he is planning to travel to Faryab to observe the situation on the ground."
Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek warlord from the days of the Afghan civil war, was based in northern Afghanistan with a stronghold in Mazar-i Sharif. Fayzi said Dostum's presence in the north would encourage those resisting the Taliban, but he added that the deputy defense minister and the commander of Afghanistan's air force were already in Faryab.
Fayzi also said reinforcements, including helicopter gunships, would be sent to Faryab, and he vowed that the Taliban would be driven out of the province.
Fayzi and Hashami referred to the militants in Faryab as "Taliban," but other officials and military and paramilitary commanders in north Afghanistan have made frequent reference to "foreign fighters" operating there.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) contacted RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, and claimed that the IMU was in command of operations in northern Afghanistan, including in Faryab Province.
It was impossible to independently verify that claim, but Afghan officials have previously suggested the same.
-- Written by Bruce Pannier with contributions from RFE/RL's Turkmen Service Director Muhammad Tahir and RFE/RL's Uzbek Service Director Alisher Sidikov