Taliban press on, take 2 more Afghan provincial capitals

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The Taliban took control of two other provincial capitals in Afghanistan on Monday, officials said.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The Taliban took control of two other provincial capitals in Afghanistan on Monday, officials said. Her fall marked the latest development in a week-long, relentless Taliban offensive as American and NATO forces complete their withdrawal from the war-torn country.

The militants have stepped up their advance in large parts of Afghanistan and aimed their weapons at provincial capitals after capturing large swaths of the predominantly rural area. On Monday, they controlled five of the country’s 34 provincial capitals. At the same time, they are conducting an assassination campaign against high-ranking government officials in the capital, Kabul.

The raid comes despite condemnations from the international community and warnings from the United Nations that a military victory and takeover by the Taliban will not be recognized. The Taliban also ignored appeals to return to the negotiating table and to continue the long stalled peace talks with the Afghan government.

Two MPs from northern Samangan province – Hayatullah Samangani and Mahboba Rahmat – said the provincial capital Aybak fell to the Taliban without resistance on Monday afternoon. They said government officials fled to another district.

Provincial council member Mohammad Hashim Sarwari said Taliban fighters had previously captured three districts in the province before overran the capital.

Another MP from Samangan Province, Ziauddin Zia, said some government institutions are still under state control as security forces resisted Taliban fighters.

According to Mohammad Noor Rahmani, the council chief of the northern province of Sar-e Pul, after more than a week of resistance from the Afghan security forces, the Taliban overran the provincial capital, whereupon the city of Sar-e Pul collapsed. The government troops have now completely withdrawn from the province, he said.

Several close-to-government commanders of local militias also surrendered to the Taliban without a fight, which allowed the insurgents to take control of the entire province, Rahmani added.

The cities of Aybak and Sar-e Pul join three other provincial capitals now fully controlled by the Taliban: Zaranj, the capital of western Nimroz province, Sheberghan city, capital of northern Zawzjan province, and Taleqan, capital of one another northern province of the same name.

The Taliban are also continuing to fight for control of the city of Kunduz, the capital of the northern province of Kunduz. On Sunday, they planted their flag in the city’s main square, where it was flown on a traffic police booth, a video obtained from The Associated Press showed.

The capture of Kunduz would be a significant win for the Taliban and a test of their ability to conquer and hold territory in their campaign against the West-backed government. It is one of the larger cities in the country, with a population of more than 340,000, and has been a key area over the years defended against the Taliban takeover by Western forces.

After billions of dollars spent on supporting, training and reinforcing the Afghan armed forces, many disagree on how to explain the surprising Taliban lightning strike that threatened – and has since destroyed – several of the country’s 34 provincial capitals.

Rahmani, the council chief of Sar-e Pul, said the provincial capital had been besieged by militants for weeks without reinforcements sent to the overburdened Afghan armed forces. A video circulating on social media on Monday showed a line of Taliban fighters standing in front of the Sar-e Pul governor’s office congratulating each other on their victory.

The Taliban’s nationwide offensive intensified when US and NATO forces completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan this summer. Faced with mounting Taliban attacks, Afghan security forces and government forces have retaliated with US-backed air strikes. The fighting has also raised concerns about civilian casualties.

UNICEF said Monday it was shocked by the rising number of child victims amid escalating violence in Afghanistan. In the past three days, at least 27 children have been killed in various provinces, including 20 in Kandahar, it said.

“These atrocities are also evidence of the brutal nature and extent of violence in Afghanistan, which affects children who are already at risk,” the agency said. She did not name the side responsible for the murders as child recruitment by armed groups.

The Taliban have also captured most of Lashkar Gah, capital of southern Helmand province, where they captured nine of the city’s ten police districts last week. Fierce fighting continues there, as well as air strikes by the US and Afghan governments, one of which damaged a clinic and high school.

Helmand’s health ministry chief Sher Ali Shakir said Monday that seven people were killed and 95 wounded in the fighting and taken to hospitals across the province in the past 24 hours.

As they rolled through the provincial capitals, the Taliban issued an English-language statement on Sunday saying that residents, government officials and security officials had nothing to fear from them.

However, attacks of revenge and repressive treatment by women have been reported in areas now under Taliban control.

Hundreds of people displaced by fighting in the northern provinces have now reached Kabul, where they live in parks with insufficient access to drinking water in scorching summer temperatures.

“We walked with slippers and had no opportunity to wear our shoes,” said Bibi Ruqia, who left northern Takhar Province after a bomb hit her home. “We had to flee, now we are in a park.”

In Kabul, unknown perpetrators shot a journalist and a colleague on Sunday, said police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz. He said Toofan Omar is also a prosecutor in Paktia province. Omar was traveling from Bagram to Kabul when his car was robbed.

“It is not clear whether it was a personal dispute or whether he was killed as a prosecutor or a journalist,” Faramarz said.

The Taliban responded to a request from The Associated Press that they would investigate the incident.

The Taliban often target government officials and people they believe work for the government or foreign armed forces, although several attacks have been alleged by the Islamic State group.

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Associate press writer Tameem Akhgar in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.

Rahim Faiez, The Associated Press

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