Taliban seize province near Afghan capital, raising fears of militant takeover


The Taliban seized a province just south of the Afghan capital and launched a multi-front assault on a major northern city defended by powerful former warlords on Saturday, Afghan officials said.

Insurgents captured much of northern, western and southern Afghanistan in a meteoric offensive less than three weeks before the United States withdrew its remaining troops, raising fears of a total takeover by militants or another Afghan civil war.

The Taliban have captured all of Logar and arrested its provincial officials, Hoda Ahmadi, a provincial lawmaker, said on Saturday. She said the Taliban reached Char Asyab district, just 11 kilometers (7 miles) south of the capital, Kabul.

The insurgents also captured the capital of Paktika province, which borders Pakistan, according to Khalid Asad, a provincial lawmaker. He confirmed that Sharana fell to the insurgents on Saturday, but could not provide further details immediately.

The Taliban also attacked the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif from several directions, sparking heavy fighting on its outskirts, according to Munir Ahmad Farhad, spokesman for the governor of the province. There was no word on the victims.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gave a televised address on Saturday, his first public appearance since the recent Taliban gains, in which he vowed not to abandon the “achievements” of the 20 years since the United States overthrew the Taliban following the September 11 attacks.

“We have started consultations, within government, with elders and political leaders, representatives of different levels of the community as well as our international allies,” he said. “Soon the results will be shared with you,” he added, without giving further details.

The president traveled to Mazar-e-Sharif on Wednesday to rally the city’s defenses, meeting with several militia commanders, including Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad Noor, who command thousands of fighters.

They remain allies with the government, but in previous rounds of fighting in Afghanistan, warlords have been known to switch sides for their own survival. Ismail Khan, a powerful former warlord who had tried to defend Herat, was captured by the Taliban when insurgents took over the western city after two weeks of fierce fighting.

Residents of Mazar-e-Sharif have expressed fear of the collapse of security.

“The situation is dangerous outside the city and inside the city,” said Mohibullah Khan, adding that many residents are also struggling economically.

“The security situation in the city is getting worse,” Kawa Basharat said. “I want peace and stability. The fighting must stop.

The Taliban have made major strides in recent days, including taking Herat and Kandahar, the country’s second and third largest cities. They now control 19 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, leaving the Western-backed government to control a handful of provinces in the center and east, as well as Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.

The withdrawal of foreign forces and the rapid withdrawal of Afghanistan’s own troops – despite hundreds of billions of dollars in US aid over the years – has raised fears that the Taliban will return to power or that the country will be destroyed by fighting between factions, as was the case after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

The first Marines of a 3,000-strong contingent arrived Friday to help partially evacuate the US Embassy. The others are expected to arrive by Sunday and their deployment has raised questions as to whether the administration will meet its August 31 withdrawal deadline.

The Taliban, meanwhile, released a video announcing the takeover of the main radio station in the southern city of Kandahar, renaming it the Voice of Sharia, or Islamic Law.

In the video, an anonymous insurgent said all employees were present and would disseminate news, political analysis and recitations from the Quran, the Islamic holy book. It appears that the station is no longer playing music.

It was not clear whether the Taliban had purged the former employees or allowed them to return to work. Most people in Kandahar wear the traditional Taliban favorite. The man in the video praised the people of Kandahar on the Taliban victory.

The Taliban have used mobile radio stations over the years, but have not operated a station in a major city since they ruled the country from 1996 to 2001. At that time, they also ran a station called Voice of Sharia in Kandahar, the birthplace of the militant group. Music was prohibited.

The United States invaded shortly after the 9/11 attacks, planned and executed by al-Qaeda while being sheltered by the Taliban. After quickly ousting the Taliban, the United States turned to nation-building, hoping to create a modern Afghan state after decades of war and unrest.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced a timeline for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of August, pledging to end America’s longest war. His predecessor, President Donald Trump, had struck a deal with the Taliban to pave the way for a US withdrawal.

Biden’s announcement sparked the latest offensive. The Taliban, who have long controlled large parts of the Afghan countryside, moved quickly to seize provincial capitals, border crossings and other key infrastructure.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled their homes, many fearing a return to the oppressive domination of the Taliban. The group had previously ruled Afghanistan under a harsh version of Islamic law in which women were largely confined to the home.


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