Taliban seize 10th Afghan provincial capital in blitz

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The Taliban captured a provincial capital near Kabul on Thursday, the 10th, insurgents resumed a week-long blitz across Afghanistan as the United States and NATO prepare to withdraw entirely from the country after decades of war.

The activists raised their white flags printed with a proclamation of Islamic faith over the town of Ghazni, just 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of Kabul. Sporadic fighting continued at an intelligence base and army facility outside the city, two local officials told The Associated Press.

The Taliban posted videos and pictures online showing them in Ghazni, the capital of a province of the same name.

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A Taliban flag flies in a square in the town of Ghazni, Afghanistan, after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces on Thursday, August 12, 2021 (AP Photo / Gulabuddin Amiri)
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A Taliban flag flies in a square in the town of Ghazni, Afghanistan, after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces on Thursday, August 12, 2021 (AP Photo / Gulabuddin Amiri)

Afghan security forces and the government did not respond to repeated requests for comment during the days of fighting. However, President Ashraf Ghani is attempting to rally a counteroffensive by relying on his country’s special forces, warlord militias, and American air power before the United States and NATO withdrew from it. the end of the month.

While the capital of Kabul itself was not directly threatened by the advance, the staggering speed of the offensive raises questions about how long the Afghan government will be able to maintain control of the shreds of the country it left. The government could eventually be forced to withdraw to defend the capital and a few other towns, as the fighting displaces thousands of people.

Mohammad Arif Rahmani, a lawmaker from Ghazni, said the city fell to insurgents. Amanullah Kamrani, a member of the Ghazni provincial council, also told the PA, but added that the two bases outside the city remained held by government forces.

Kamrani alleged that the provincial governor and police chief in Ghazni made a deal with the Taliban to flee after their surrender. Taliban video and photos purported to show the governor’s convoy passing by Taliban fighters not stopped under the deal. The two officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

Activists gathered on one grabbed Humvee and drove down a main road in Ghazni, with the golden dome of a mosque near the governor’s office visible behind them, shouting, “God is great! The insurgents, cradling their rifles, then gathered at a roundabout for an impromptu speech from a commander. One activist carried a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. They were smiling like children and the curious gathered around them.

The loss of Ghazni marks another strategic setback for Afghan government forces. The city is located along the Kabul-Kandahar Highway, a main road that connects the Afghan capital with the southern provinces of the country. This could complicate the resupply and movement of government forces, as well as compress the capital from the south.

Already, the Taliban’s weeklong blitz has seen militants take over nine other provincial capitals across the country. Many are in the northeast corner of the country, putting pressure on Kabul from that direction as well.

Angry with pan-Arab satellite news network Al-Jazeera for reporting on the surrender of troops in Kunduz, General Ajmal Omar Shinwari said the channel would be under investigation by authorities. Al-Jazeera, based in Qatar where the Taliban has a diplomatic office, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Meanwhile, fighting raged in Lashkar Gah, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities in the Taliban heart of Helmand province, where surrounded government forces hoped to retain this provincial capital.

A suicide car bomb on Wednesday marked the latest wave of violence targeting the regional police headquarters in the capital. The Taliban took the building on Thursday, with some police surrendering to the militants and others retreating to the neighboring governor’s office which is still being held by government forces, said Nasima Niazi, a lawmaker from Helmand.

Niazi said she believed the Taliban attack killed and injured members of the security forces, but did not cause any casualties. Another suicide car bomb attack targeted the provincial jail, but the government still detained her, she said. Further Taliban advances have allowed militants to free hundreds of their members over the past week, bolstering their ranks while seizing weapons and vehicles provided by the United States.

Niazi criticized the ongoing airstrikes targeting the area, saying civilians were likely injured and killed.

“The Taliban used civilian homes for protection, and the government, without paying any attention to civilians, carried out airstrikes,” she said.

With Afghan air power limited and in disarray, the US Air Force would carry out strikes to support Afghan forces. Aviation tracking data suggests US Air Force B-52 bombers, F-15 fighter jets, drones and other planes were involved in the overnight fighting across the country , according to Australian security firm The Cavell Group.

Qatar-based U.S. Air Force Central Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The success of the Taliban offensive also raises the question of whether they would one day join the long-running peace talks in Qatar aimed at moving Afghanistan towards an inclusive interim administration as hoped by the West. Instead, the Taliban could come to power by force – or the country could split into factional fighting as it did after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

In Doha, US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Chinese, Pakistani and Russian diplomats to warn the Taliban that they could again be considered international outcasts if they continued their offensive, said the spokesperson for the State Department, Ned Price. Khalilzad also plans to meet with the Afghan government and Taliban officials as the fighting continues with no signs of abating.

In Germany, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned the Taliban not to try to seize power by force and to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law which severely limits rights. Maas told German public television ZDF that if the Taliban did so, the country would no longer receive “a dime” in development aid from Germany, which is currently estimated at around 430 million euros (504 million euros). dollars) per year.

Multiple battlefronts have strained the government’s special operations forces – while regular troops have often fled the battlefield – and violence has forced thousands of civilians to seek refuge in the capital.

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The latest US military intelligence assessment is that Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and if current trends continue, the Taliban could take full control of the country within months.

Associated Press reporter Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.

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