Amid fierce fighting, Taliban capture 6 provincial capitals


US and UK urge all nationals to leave Afghanistan immediately as Islamists control 85% of the country

[Islamabad] The Afghan Taliban’s gains continue on a fast track as the radical Sunni movement captured a sixth provincial capital on Monday.

Insurgents entered Samangan on Monday morning without a fight after community elders pleaded with authorities to spare the city from further violence after weeks of clashes on the outskirts, said Sefatullah Samangani, deputy governor of the city. Samangan province.

“The governor accepted and withdrew all forces from the city,” Samangani added, saying the Taliban now had “full control”.

A Taliban spokesperson confirmed that the city had been taken.

On Sunday evening, after expelling government forces, the Taliban entered Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province, and hoisted their flag in the main square of the country’s seventh largest city.

In the past three days, the Taliban have also taken control of the provincial capitals Zaranj, Sheberghan, Kunduz and Sar-e Pol. Afghanistan has 34 provinces

In a blow to the administration of Kabul, the Taliban earlier Sunday morning captured Kunduz, a strategic city considered a gateway to the northern provinces.

The capture of Kunduz, the country’s sixth city, is the biggest gain to date for the Taliban.

Kunduz is connected by highways to Kabul, Mazār-e-Sharīf (the country’s fourth largest city) and Badakhshan province, as well as Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, several rockets were fired at Kandahar International Airport on Saturday and Sunday.

According to local media, “the attack [on Sunday] caused no casualties, but an airliner landing at the airport was redirected to Kabul.

This is the fifth time in three weeks that the airport has come under rocket fire. Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces continues in Kandahar, Herat and Lashkar Gah.

As Taliban attacks escalate, security forces have responded with US Air Force-assisted strikes.

Fawad Aman, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said on Saturday that “US B-52 bombers launched airstrikes on the Taliban in the Jawzjan area and inflicted heavy damage on them.”

The fierce fighting and aerial bombardments have raised concerns about civilian casualties.

Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s chief spokesperson, told The Media Line that “after the blatant defeat, warplanes deliberately bomb civilians and cause heavy collateral damage. The Kabul administration is committing war crimes.

“The Kabul puppet regime forces are fleeing and leaving behind masses of arms, ammunition and military vehicles,” Mujahid said.

Obaidullah Tooro, a member of the Sar-e Pol provincial council, told The Media Line that “the Taliban expelled all officials and took control of the police headquarters and other departments.

“The chaos has spread everywhere [Sar-e Pol] town and no official or control of the Kabul administration is seen in any direction. Meanwhile, Taliban special forces are patrolling the city, ”Tooro said.

On Saturday, the Taliban seized the strategic city of Sheberghan, the capital of Jawzjan province, and on Friday, the Islamists took control of Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province.

The British Foreign Office said on Friday: “All British nationals in Afghanistan are advised to leave now by commercial means. “

On Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a security alert urging U.S. citizens to immediately leave Afghanistan using available commercial flight options and not rely on U.S. government flights.

On Sunday, the United States Embassy tweeted that “President Biden believes the Afghan government and security forces have the training, equipment and numbers to prevail, and now is the time to the “leadership and willingness” to face the Taliban aggression. “

Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington and leading expert on Afghanistan, told The Media Line: “Biden made his decision to withdraw based on an assessment of terrorist threats against the United States, not on the strength of the Taliban.

“There are two options: # 1 is that the Biden administration would be consistent with current Afghan policy, but I wouldn’t rule out option # 2, which concerns the best use of US resources in aid. humanitarian aid to refugees, which is now much needed in this war-torn country, ”Kugelman added.

“Afghans are displaced on an alarming scale and neighboring states pledge to push them back. Many will be forced to flee further. This is a global humanitarian crisis, not just a regional one, ”he said.

“If the United States ceases anti-Taliban operations on August 31, it would send confusing messages and could have a demoralizing impact on the Afghan security forces, but if this continues, the United States continues its war even after the withdrawal, ”he noted. .

“New US Air Force airstrikes in recent days may provide much needed aid to Afghan security forces, but it also increases the risk of more civilian casualties,” Kugelman continued. “Moreover, it presents a political conundrum with the US withdrawal officially slated to end in less than a month.”

Adeeb Z. Safvi, Karachi-based defense analyst and retired Pakistani Navy captain, told The Media Line: “The United States has signed the Doha peace agreement with the Afghan Taliban. [in February 2020]. Since then, American policymakers have continued to call them insurgents. Does this mean that the world superpower has signed a deal with a terrorist group? Does he not de facto recognize their position of calling themselves “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan?” “”

When the Taliban began ruling Afghanistan in September 1996, after the fall of Kabul, they established what the movement called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which at its peak controlled around 90% of the country.

Safvi continued that “in fact, looking at the content of the agreement, it is an acceptance of the existence of the Taliban as a legal entity and owners of their homeland.”

“Taliban forces now control 85% of Afghanistan’s landmass. Despite the deadliest clashes in the country, we do not see a mass exodus of people to neighboring countries, ”he said.

“The United States, in violation of the Doha agreement, are continuing their airstrikes against the Taliban. Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports indicate that the [President Ashraf] The Kabul regime led by Ghani is considering the imposition of martial law, ”Safvi said.

Anis Ur Rehman, a Kabul-based political analyst, told The Media Line: “The main reason for the current devastating situation in Afghanistan is the rapid withdrawal of US forces.

“The Afghan government was not at all prepared to face such a situation,” he noted.

“Unexpectedly, foreign forces evacuated their strongholds, including Bagram Air Base, in a rush, which left a negative impact and sent [Afghan security forces’] morale has gone down to some extent, ”continued Rehman. As a result, “Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently held Washington responsible for the current deterioration of the situation in the country.

“Although the Taliban have spread the war across the country, they cannot maintain control of these areas for long,” he said.

“The Taliban enter the cities, seize weapons, vehicles and leave the area in search of another victory. We have observed such a situation in recent days, ”said Rehman.

In contrast, Kamal Alam, a non-resident senior researcher at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center in Washington, told The Media Line from somewhere in northern Afghanistan that “the current deterioration of the The situation in Afghanistan has as much to do with the failure of Ashraf Ghani-led regime as it does with an overall failure of US policy.

“Lt. Gen. HR McMaster, Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, wrote his doctorate on the failure of high-ranking American generals to bring the truth about the Vietnam War,” Alam said. strange irony, he was part of the clique of generals who were guilty of the same thing. [regarding the war in Afghanistan].

“Year after year, every American general [in turn] distorted the truth, [saying] that America could win the war. With the exception of General Stanley McChrystal and Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, very few senior American officers have told the truth in uniform, ”he said.

“What was the truth? That US forces were there to save the lives and corruption of an incompetent Afghan government, ”he continued. “Today every Afghan leader has millions hidden in Dubai, London or Istanbul with foreign passports while the ordinary Afghan suffers.”

“The collapse of the Afghan army is also a testament to the ‘We have made a great army’ lies,” Alam said. “The real failure is the lies and deception of the Afghan leadership currently in charge, as well as the 20 years of misleading visions of the American generals.

“However, resistance against the Taliban and the corruption of the current political elite has started, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel. However, the Taliban and Ghani feed on each other while the silent majority of Afghans die and suffer, ”Alam said.

Islamabad-based international relations expert Azeem Khalid Qureshi told The Media Line that “the irresponsible withdrawal of the United States, without creating a strategically stable internal environment, from Afghanistan has created a vacuum and power imbalance. in the country paved the way for the continuation of civil war.

“Critics of the withdrawal warned that the Taliban could take over the whole country,” Qureshi added.

“Different factions of the Taliban fill the gap left by NATO / ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and the fragile Afghan authorities are unable to control the vast territories of the war-torn country, ”he said.

“If, God forbid, the ongoing conflict drags on, the country could be plunged into another decade of civil war unless political talks can resume,” Qureshi said.

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