The Taliban took control of another provincial capital in Afghanistan on Monday, an official said. The city’s fall was the latest in a week of relentless Taliban offensive as US and NATO forces finalized their withdrawal from the war-torn country.
Militants have stepped up their push across much of Afghanistan, pointing their guns at provincial capitals after taking large swathes of land in the predominantly rural countryside. At the same time, they waged a campaign of assassinations targeting senior government officials in the capital, Kabul.
The sweep comes despite condemnations from the international community and warnings from the United Nations that a military victory and takeover by the Taliban would go unrecognized. The Taliban has also ignored calls to return to the negotiating table and continue long-stalled peace talks with the Afghan government.
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According to Mohammad Noor Rahmani, the head of the council of the northern province of Sar-e Pul, the Taliban invaded the provincial capital after more than a week of resistance from Afghan security forces, after which the town of Sar-e Pul s ‘is collapsed. Government forces have now completely withdrawn from the province, he said.
Several commanders of pro-government local militias also surrendered to the Taliban without a fight, allowing the insurgents to take control of the entire province, Rahmani added.
The city of Sar-e Pul joins three other provincial capitals now fully under Taliban control: Zaranj, the capital of the western province of Nimroz, the city of Shibirghan, the capital of the northern province of Zawzjan, and Taleqan, the capital of another northern province with the same name.
The Taliban are also fighting for control of the city of Kunduz, the capital of the northern province of Kunduz. They planted their flag in the city’s main square on Sunday, where it was seen flying atop a traffic police booth, video obtained by the Associated Press showed.
Capturing Kunduz would be an important gain for the Taliban and a test of their ability to take and hold territory in their campaign against the Western-backed government. It is one of the largest cities in the country with a population of over 340,000 and has been a key area defended from Taliban takeovers by Western troops over the years.
After billions of dollars spent on aid, training, and in bolstering Afghan forces, many don’t know how to explain the startling Taliban blitz that threatened – and now captured – several of the country’s 34 provincial capitals.
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Rahmani, the Sar-e Pul council chief, said the provincial capital had been under siege by militants for weeks, with no reinforcements sent to the overwhelmed Afghan forces. A video circulating on social media on Monday shows a number of Taliban fighters standing in front of the Sar-e Pul governor’s office and congratulating each other on the victory.
The Taliban offensive across the country has intensified as US and NATO troops began to complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan this summer. With the increase in Taliban attacks, Afghan security forces and government troops responded with airstrikes with assistance from the United States. The fighting has also raised growing concerns over civilian casualties.
Insurgents also took most of Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province, where they captured nine of the city’s ten police districts last week. Heavy fighting continues there, as do air strikes by the US and Afghan governments, one of which damaged a health center and a high school.
The Defense Ministry confirmed that airstrikes had taken place, but said they targeted Taliban positions, killing 54 fighters and injuring 23. His statement made no mention of a clinic or school. bombed. Provincial council vice president Majid Akhund said the facilities were under Taliban control when they were struck.
On Saturday, Taliban fighters entered the capital of the northern province of Jawzjan after sweeping nine of the province’s ten districts. And Kandahar City, the provincial capital of Kandahar, also remains under siege.
As they passed through provincial capitals, the Taliban issued a statement in English on Sunday saying residents, government employees and security officials had nothing to fear from them.
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However, revenge attacks and repressive treatment against women have been reported in areas now controlled by the Taliban.
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