Citizens react to spiralling violence with militants seizing at least 50 of county’s nearly 400 districts since May

Haji Ghoulam Farouq Siawshani (centre with grey waistcoat and silver turban ), former oil trader turned militia commander, with his men. Photograph: Akhtar Mohammed Makoii


aji Ghoulam Farouq Siawshani watched the Taliban rampage across northern Afghanistan this month, weighing up the threat from militants on his doorstep. Then, 10 days ago, the former oil trader turned militia commander issued a call to arms.

“Where the Taliban go, they bring destruction, and they are one kilometre away from my village,” he told the Guardian. “We decided to respond.”

He now leads a few dozen men he armed with ageing Kalashnikovs, in Gozara district, just south of the ancient trade and cultural centre of Herat,on the country’s western border with Iran.

Foreign troops are racing to leave Afghanistan ahead of the final departure of the US military, who led and underpinned the foreign mission for nearly 20 years. They are now expected to be gone by the middle of July, and most of their Nato allies have already departed, leaving only British and Turkish forces still on the ground.