Bakhtiar Ludin looks like a rogue, with a roughly tied checkered scarf for a turban, a Kalashnikov and a band of similarly tough, armed men for company.
But much of the hopes of Afghan and American officials to turn around the eight-year war here rests with him and those like him.
Ludin and his band are part of a push to raise local militias to help stop the Taliban from spreading to new areas, like here in the north, where the insurgents advanced quickly in the past 18 months.
Not long ago even police cars could not drive down the eastern approaches to the city of Kunduz, for fear of rocket attacks from Taliban insurgents. No more.
“Bakhtiar is really good,” said Noor Muhammad, the police captain who commands a small post on the edge of town. “He secured the area.”
Supported by American Special Forces troops, and led by Afghan intelligence officials, the effort has been building for six months and is now gaining traction in some rural areas where Afghan and NATO forces are too thinly spread to stop the Taliban’s encroachment.
As security deteriorated here in Kunduz province, the governor and intelligence chief enlisted the help of former resistance fighters like Ludin, called mujahideen, who had fought against Soviet invaders and the Taliban in the past.
Although the Americans have said they will not provide weapons to the militias, the Afghans gave them guns.
They also provide critical backup when needed, including transportation, communications and medical treatment, Afghan security officials said.
The militias, working alongside Afghan and NATO forces, recently helped clear several areas of insurgents.
The gains may not be permanent, but they have dealt a setback to the Taliban, the officials said.
“We, the government, must destroy the Taliban in Kunduz this winter because next spring they will be stronger,” said General Muhammad Daoud, a deputy interior minister who commanded mujahideen forces in Kunduz when they helped overthrow the Taliban government alongside coalition forces in 2001.
“We should use former mujahideen, formally and logically, as they have the sense of how to fight the Taliban,” he said. During the resistance period the mujahideen had forces in every village, Daoud said.
Still loyal to their parties and their local leaders, they represent an extensive network of potential fighters, informants and helpers throughout the country, he said.