As a series of Taliban victories shows the disarray of Afghan government forces, a young general advances his reputation on the battlefield and on social media.
Northern provincial towns have fallen like dominoes this week – in some cases after government forces withdrew or surrendered without a fight – but in Lashkar Gah, a Taliban center, the military appears to be offering firmer resistance. .
They are led by Sami Sadat, 36, the highest-ranking army officer in southern Afghanistan, in an intense fight in defense of a provincial capital that the Taliban are desperate to capture. .
And as insurgents flood social media with images of Afghan soldiers surrendering and selfies with locals, the young general is also using Twitter and Facebook as a shrewd public relations tool in the fight against die-hard Islamists.
He and the 20,000 men under his command in the 215th Corps rallied thousands of followers, with their Twitter accounts inundated with images of the general among the troops, posing for selfies with young civilians and meeting local traders.
The Defense Ministry tweeted on Wednesday that he had been promoted to head the country’s special forces, an announcement widely applauded on the platform.
Sadat remains optimistic despite the advances of the Taliban.
“Because I know we are going to win,” he told AFP in a telephone interview from the Lashkar Gah front.
“I know this is our country, that the Taliban are failing, that they will fail sooner or later. “
– Confident and ruthless –
But there is more to him than he seems, say his fellow officers and friends.
“He is anything but naive,” said a security official who requested anonymity.
“He has a very strategic vision and a very thorough analysis of what is going on,” said a general who was Sadat’s colleague at the spy agency.
A graduate of the prestigious King’s College London, Sadat began his military career at the Afghan Interior Ministry.
He received military training in Germany, Britain, Poland and the United States, and also served in the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan spy agency.
Sadat prefers to talk about his men rather than himself and his family – senior officers and their relatives are particular targets for Taliban squads – and refuses even to say where he was born.
But he also wants to talk about the war, which he does with confidence and ruthlessly.
“Any Taliban who comes to Lashkar Gah will die or be disabled for life,” he told AFP.
Still, he admits it will take time to completely secure the city.
– ‘Do anything for his soldiers’ –
On August 4, Sadat called on residents to leave Lashkar Gah so that the army could launch an all-out counteroffensive.
But he always held back, saying he feared hurting those who chose to stay.
Sadat described how his forces went from house to house to secure the neighborhoods that the Taliban had infiltrated in Lashkar Gah.
“We still find civilians – especially elderly and trapped women – whom we take to safer places,” he said.
NGOs and the United Nations have repeatedly expressed concern at the violence and risk to civilians – threats that include aerial bombardment of suspected Taliban positions in Lashkar Gah by the Afghan army.
The loyalty and respect Sadat appears to command among the troops has been a key factor in resisting the Taliban in the city, despite their morale-damaging advances elsewhere in Afghanistan.
“It’s not someone giving orders from the rear hiding in the humvee,” an Afghan security source said.
“He will do anything for his soldiers.”
© 2021 AFP