Taliban seize essential metropolis within the north and method the Afghan capital | World information
By AHMAD SEIR, TAMEEM AKHGAR, RAHIM FAIEZ and JOSEPH KRAUSS, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The Taliban captured a large, heavily defended city in northern Afghanistan on Saturday, which meant a serious setback for the government, and were approaching the capital Kabul, less than three weeks before the US hoped for theirs Complete troop withdrawal.
The fall of Mazar-e-Sharif, the fourth largest city in the country that Afghan forces and two powerful former warlords promised to defend, puts insurgents in control of all of northern Afghanistan and limits the west-backed government to the center and east.
Abas Ebrahimzada, a lawmaker from Balkh province, where the city is located, said the national army surrendered first, causing pro-government militias and other forces to lose morale and give up in the face of a Taliban attack that struck on Saturday was started earlier.
Ebrahimzada said Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad Noor, former warlords who command thousands of fighters, have fled the province and their whereabouts are unknown.
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Noor said in a Facebook post that his defeat was staged in Mazar-e-Sharif and blamed government forces for handing over their weapons and equipment to the Taliban. He did not say who was behind the conspiracy or offer details, but said he and Dostum were “now in a safe place”.
The Taliban have made great strides in recent days, including capturing Herat and Kandahar, the country’s second and third largest cities. They now control about 24 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, leaving the west-backed government with only a few provinces in the center and east, as well as the capital, Kabul.
On Saturday, the Taliban captured all of Logar province south of Kabul and arrested local officials, said Hoda Ahmadi, a province representative. She said the Taliban had reached Char Asyab district, which is just seven miles south of the capital.
Later, the insurgents took Mihterlam, the capital of Laghman province, northeast of Kabul, without a fight, according to Zefon Safi, a legislator from the province.
On Saturday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gave a televised speech, his first public appearance since the recent Taliban gains. He vowed not to give up the “achievements” of the 20 years since the US toppled the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks.
The US continued to hold peace talks between the government and the Taliban in Qatar this week, and the international community has warned against avoiding a forcibly appointed Taliban government. But the insurgents seem to have little interest in making concessions while they are winning victories on the battlefield.
“We have started consultations within the government with elders and political leaders, representatives of various levels of the community and our international allies,” said Ghani. “Soon the results will be shared with you,” he added without elaborating.
Hours later, his troops suffered one of the biggest setbacks since the Taliban offensive began.
Mazar-e-Sharif, home to a famous Muslim shrine with blue tiles, was a stronghold of the Northern Alliance, ethnic militias that helped the US overthrow the Taliban in 2001.
In 1997, up to 2,000 Taliban fighters were captured and killed by troops loyal to Mohammed Mohaqiq, a Shiite Hazara leader, and his ethnic Uzbek allies. The following year, the Taliban returned and killed thousands of Hazara in Mazar-e-Sharif in a revenge attack.
Several makeshift camps had sprung up around Mazar-e-Sharif, where mostly ethnic Hazaras had sought refuge after fleeing their homes in remote areas. They said the Taliban had arrested relatives trying to leave their districts and in some cases burned schools.
Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled their homeland, many fear a return to the oppressive rule of the Taliban. The group had previously ruled Afghanistan under a harsh version of Islamic law that stipulated that women were not allowed to work, go to school or leave their homes without a male relative.
Salima Mazari, one of the country’s few female district governors, voiced fears of a Taliban takeover before it fell in an interview with Mazar-e-Sharif on Saturday.
“There will be no place for women,” said Mazari, who rules a 36,000-strong district near the northern city. “In the provinces controlled by the Taliban there are no more women, not even in the cities. They are all locked in their homes. “
The Taliban appointed hardliner Mujeeb Rahman Ansari as minister for women’s affairs in Herat, a prominent woman activist from the city who refused to be identified for fear for her safety. She described Ansari as “strongly against women’s rights”. He rose to prominence around 2015 and became infamous for dozens of billboards he installed in Herat urging women to wear Islamic hijab and demonizing those who would stand up for women’s rights.
The Taliban also captured Paktika province and the small Kunar province, both of which border Pakistan, as well as Faryab province in the north and central Daykundi province, lawmakers from these areas announced on Saturday.
Sayed Hussan Gerdezi, a lawmaker from Paktia province, said the Taliban had captured most of their local capital, Gardez, but fighting with government forces was still ongoing. The Taliban said they controlled the city.
The withdrawal of foreign troops and the rapid collapse of Afghanistan’s own armed forces – despite hundreds of billions of dollars in US aid over the years – have raised fears that the Taliban may return to power or the country may be crushed by factional battles as it was after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. This has also led many American and Afghan war veterans to wonder if two decades of blood and treasure were worth it.
Afghans have flocked to Kabul international airport to fly out in recent days, while more American troops have arrived to help with the partial evacuation of the US embassy.
US President Joe Biden has approved an additional 1,000 US soldiers for use in Afghanistan, according to a defense official. This brings the number of US troops to about 5,000 to ensure what Biden calls an “orderly and safe withdrawal” of American and Allied personnel. US forces will also help evacuate Afghans who worked with the military during the nearly two decades of war.
The first marines arrived on Friday. The rest are expected by Sunday, and their deployment has raised questions about whether the government will meet its August 31 exit deadline.
The US Air Force has launched several air strikes to aid its Afghan allies on the ground, but they appear to have done little to stem the Taliban’s advance. A B-52 bomber and other fighter jets crossed the country’s airspace on Saturday, flight tracking data showed.
The US invaded shortly after the 9/11 attacks planned and carried out by al-Qaeda under the protection of the Taliban. After the Taliban’s swift expulsion, the US turned to nation-building in the hope of creating a modern Afghan state after decades of war and unrest.
Earlier this year, Biden announced a schedule for the withdrawal of all US troops by the end of August. His predecessor, President Donald Trump, had reached an agreement with the Taliban to pave the way for a US withdrawal.
Biden’s announcement launched 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 vital infrastructure.
“The security situation in the city is getting worse,” said Kawa Basharat, a resident of Mazar-e-Sharif, hours before the city fell. “I want peace and stability; the fighting should end. “
Rahim and Akhgar reported from Istanbul and Krauss from Jerusalem. Associated Press Writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Kathy Gannon in Guelph, Canada; and Robert Burns and Josh Boak of Washington, DC contributed to this report.
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