January 25, 2018 / 11:58 AM / 4 months ago

Governor of poverty-stricken Afghan province quits as security worsens

LASHAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The governor of the western Afghan province of Farah resigned on Thursday after months of mounting insecurity that have fuelled protests by residents fearful that the Taliban could threaten the provincial capital.

Mohammad Aref Shah Jahan blamed political interference and corruption among security forces in the province, on the frontier with Iran in the far west of the country.

“I have resigned from my post because of the worsening security situation in Farah,” he told reporters, adding that there had been “interference in my responsibilities from various individuals”.

Although Afghan and U.S. military commanders have expressed growing optimism about battlefield successes against the Taliban, backed by increased American air strikes, the problems in Farah show how unstable security remains in many areas.

Farah, one of the poorest provinces in Afghanistan, has seen months of fighting and accusations of collusion between some units in the police and the Taliban, fuelled by cross-border smuggling and drug trafficking.

Jahan’s resignation underscored how President Ashraf Ghani’s government, currently engaged in an unrelated standoff with the powerful governor of Balkh province in the north, has struggled to maintain control in many areas outside the capital Kabul.

On Wednesday, hundreds of people took to the streets of Farah city, the provincial capital, setting fire to two police vehicles and protesting about the lack of security and demanding the provincial leadership resign.

“Farah has been suffering from a lot of internal issues for a long time,” said Farid Bakhtawar, head of the provincial council. “Security forces are there but involved in corruption and selling their outposts, weapons and fuel to the Taliban.”

Local officials have also blamed neighbouring Iran, which the United States says is trying to extend its influence in western Afghanistan, for providing the insurgents with money and modern weapons and explosives.

Security forces have been rushed in to bolster the defences after Farah city came close to being overrun by the Taliban last week but commanders say the immediate threat has eased.

“There is an ongoing operation in Farah and we understand there are problems we need to fix,” said Mohammad Naser Hedayat, commander of 207th Zafar Army Corps based in the neighbouring province of Herat.

“We recently deployed three battalion-size units to Farah from the police and army to start to push the Taliban back and the operation is going successfully,” he said.

However many in the city fear it could still fall.

“The shops in the city were closed for days and there is still panic among the people that the Taliban are returning,” said Haji Hashem, a car dealer in the city. He said gunfire and explosions, although no longer so close, could still be heard outside the city.

“The government here has lost its way and has no clue how to deal with the situation,” he said.

Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Nick Macfie

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