The Taliban ambushed and killed the director of the Afghan government’s media center in the capital Kabul on Friday, the latest murder of a government official just days after an assassination attempt on the acting defense minister of the country.
The murder comes amid Taliban advances and battles for more territory as US and NATO forces complete their final withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of the month. The Taliban have waged fierce fighting for months across Afghanistan, besieging provincial capitals in the south and west of the country after capturing district after district and even seizing several key border posts.
Also on Friday, in southern Nimroz province, the capital of Zaranj appeared to be the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban, although the government said there was still heavy fighting around key infrastructure in the region. city. But the Taliban posted images on social media showing insurgents inside the local airport and posing for photos at the entrance to the city.
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Nimroz is sparsely populated in a predominantly desert region, and Zaranj, the provincial capital, has a population of around 50,000. His fall to the Taliban, if confirmed, was an essentially symbolic victory for the insurgents.
Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Associated Press that insurgents killed Dawa Khan Menapal, the Afghan government’s head of press operations for local and foreign media. He had previously been deputy spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The assassination took place during weekly Friday prayers, according to Interior Ministry deputy spokesman Said Hamid Rushan. After the shooting, Afghan forces deployed to the Kabul neighborhood where Menapal was shot while driving in his car.
Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, then issued a statement claiming responsibility and said Menapal “was killed in a special attack” by the mujahedin, or holy warriors.
The Taliban often target government officials and those they perceive to work for the government or foreign forces, although several recent attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State group. The government most often holds the Taliban responsible.
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Earlier this week, a Taliban bombing targeted Afghan interim Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi. The attack in a heavily guarded upscale Kabul neighborhood on Tuesday evening killed at least eight people and injured 20. The minister was unharmed.
The bombing was followed by a shootout which also killed four Taliban fighters. Activists said the attack was aimed at avenging Taliban fighters killed in government offensives in rural provinces.
Meanwhile, Afghan and American planes shelled Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province on Friday as insurgents closed a major border post with neighboring Pakistan.
Residents of Lashkar Gah, the disputed provincial capital of Helmand, said airstrikes destroyed a market in the center of town – an area controlled by the Taliban. Afghan officials say the Taliban now controls nine of the city’s ten neighborhoods.
The Taliban began surging into Afghanistan with unexpected speed after the United States and NATO began their final withdrawal in late April.
The fierce fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghans, now living in miserable conditions in makeshift shelters and makeshift camps in a southern desert environment – brutally hot days and cold nights. Inside the towns where the fighting is taking place, thousands of people are trapped and unable to leave their homes.
In the southern city of Kandahar, the capital of the province of the same name, hundreds of people are sheltering in makeshift camps, wondering where they will find food for their children. In Helmand’s capital Lashkar Gah, the closed office of Action Against Hunger, a global humanitarian organization, was hit by an airstrike on Thursday, the group said in a statement. The fighting had forced the organization to close its office last week.
More than half of Afghanistan’s 421 districts and district centers are now in Taliban hands. While many districts lie in remote areas, some are deeply strategic, giving the Taliban control of lucrative border crossings with Iran, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
In southeastern Afghanistan, the Taliban last month seized control of the Pakistani border town of Spin Boldak, one of Afghanistan’s busiest border crossings. Thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis cross daily and a constant stream of trucks pass, bringing goods to landlocked Afghanistan from the port city of Karachi in the Arabian Sea, Pakistan.
The Taliban closed the crossing on Friday due to a visa dispute, saying Pakistan is complying with the Kabul government’s requirements for Afghans traveling to Pakistan to have Pakistani passports and visas. Previously, travel documents were rarely required and Afghans with a local identity card could enter Pakistan.
“The border will remain closed until Pakistan allows all Afghans to cross on the basis of our old procedure,” the Taliban statement said.
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At the border, traders said about 1,500 people were waiting on both sides on Friday to pass. More than 600 trucks, many loaded with fresh perishable food, were saved in the two countries.
Islamabad’s relations with Kabul have been deeply troubled, with both sides accusing each other of harboring militants. Afghan Taliban leaders live in Pakistan and Kabul bitterly criticizes Pakistan for helping them and treating their fighters in Pakistani hospitals. Islamabad, meanwhile, accuses Kabul of offering refuge to the Pakistani Taliban, a separate militant group that regularly organizes attacks in Pakistan.
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