Afghan soldiers seek Taliban amnesty after fall of Herat

Herat (Afghanistan) (AFP) –


Thousands of Afghan soldiers thronged the governor's office in the western city of Herat looking for the Taliban -- not to battle them but to seek amnesty.

Afghanistan's third-biggest city fell without a fight on Thursday as government forces retreated and Herat's famous warlord Ismail Khan was detained by the insurgents.

With fears of violent reprisals growing as the Taliban get closer to a full takeover of the country, Afghan soldiers in Herat -- nearly all of them in civilian clothes -- gathered Saturday to try and get a letter of amnesty.

Inside the office that once housed the Herat governor, Taliban members sat on couches -- some cradling American military rifles -- as they jotted down names and reviewed lists spread on a glass-top coffee table.

On stationery with the Taliban letterhead, one wrote amnesty notes -- some long-term, some valid for just a few days.

One Afghan soldier at the compound told AFP that his unit was surrounded by the Taliban before the fall of the city.

Now he just wanted security.

Taliban fighters stand guard in front of the provincial governor's office in Herat, where the insurgents issued amnesty letters to Afghan soldiers
Taliban fighters stand guard in front of the provincial governor's office in Herat, where the insurgents issued amnesty letters to Afghan soldiers - AFP

"I have come here to get an amnesty letter to go out of the city," said Ahmed Shahidi.

"Until I find a place where I can stay safe in the future."

Taliban member Najeebullah Karokhi said around 3,000 people were given amnesty.

"Those who are from other provinces will be provided a three-day temporary amnesty letter so they can get to their home provinces, where they need to get another long-term amnesty letter from our officials," he said.

In the shaded part of a courtyard on the compound, hundreds sat patiently as a man holding amnesty slips shouted names one by one for them to be collected.

The banal bureaucratic process belied the shocking speed and efficiency of the Taliban's victories across Afghanistan.

Just weeks ago, a defiant and angry Ismail Khan -- who ruled Herat as his fiefdom -- had vowed to defend the city with his militia, and called on government forces to show more backbone.

But the city's defences seemingly evaporated overnight as troops retreated to a base outside the city and Khan was captured by the Taliban.

The warlord's spokesman said he had been allowed to return to his residence following talks with the Taliban, but it was unclear exactly what deal had been cut between the two.

"We had to leave the city in order to prevent further destruction," a senior government security source from Herat told AFP.

The fear of Taliban revenge is not unfounded: the insurgents have imposed brutal punishments on opponents, and anyone who violated their harsh brand of Islamic law when they were in power from 1996 to 2001.

They have recently been accused of committing war crimes, including massacres of civilians and soldiers outside combat.

The insurgents deny committing such atrocities.