Afghan cafe owner Haji Mohammad Ashraf ,62, (C) stands with members of an armed patrol against the Taliban outside his house in Maimana, the capital of the northern province of Faryab. AFP PHOTO / Wakil KOHSAR
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Draped in a bandolier of shotgun cartridges, an Afghan cafe owner was forced to cobble together a militia of neighborhood fruit vendors and vegetable hawkers when the Taliban threatened his city, demonstrating an alarming new push into urban areas. Emboldened by their recent three-day occupation of Kunduz, the first Afghan city to fall to the Taliban since their ouster from power in 2001, insurgents have made brazen attempts to overrun several other provincial centers, from Ghazni in the south to Maimana in the north.Seen previously as a rural militant movement capable only of hit-and-run attacks on cities, the Taliban's aggressive campaign to capture major urban areas reveals a highly potent insurgency that poses a crucial test for Afghanistan's overstretched NATO-backed forces.The Taliban were pushed back but the mobilization of citizen militias raised troubling questions about the ability of NATO-trained Afghan forces as they struggle to rein in the expanding insurgency.After the Taliban retreat, Ashraf's eldest son, 25-year-old Rustom – who wields a Kalashnikov and handcuffs on the off-chance he might catch a militant alive – led a new security push in his neighborhood.
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