Taliban take Kandahar: Herat in major Afghanistan offensive
KABUL (Afghanistan) — The Taliban captured two major Afghan cities on Thursday. They also captured a provincial capital. This was just weeks before the American military mission ended in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s seizure of Kandahar and Herat is one of the most significant victories to date. They have already taken 12 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals in a week-long blitz.
The U.S. military captured Ghazni in a major operation. It cuts off the vital highway that links Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and the country’s southern provinces. This is part of an insurgent push 20 years after the Taliban government was overthrown.
Although Kabul is not directly at risk, losses and battles elsewhere have further strengthened the grip of a resurgent Taliban. They are now believed to hold more than two-thirds of the country and will continue their offensive.
The United States plans to send 3,000 troops to assist in evacuating some U.S. Embassy personnel in Kabul as security is rapidly declining. Separately, Britain announced that 600 troops would be deployed to support British nationals leaving the country. Canada has also sent special forces to evacuate its embassy.
Fears that the Taliban will impose another brutal and repressive government has led to thousands fleeing Afghanistan. Although diplomats met throughout the day, peace talks in Qatar remain deadlocked.
According to the latest U.S. intelligence assessment, Kabul could be under insurgent pressure in 30 days. If current trends continue, the Taliban could take complete control of the country in a matter of months. If the Taliban continue their momentum, the Afghan government could withdraw to defend Kabul and a few other cities.
This attack represents a shocking collapse of Afghan forces. It also raises questions about the $830 billion U.S. Defense Department spent fighting, training troops and reconstruction efforts.
The government and Afghan security forces have not responded to journalists’ repeated questions over the fighting days. Instead, they issued a video communique that downplayed the Taliban advance.
The Great Mosque, which dates back to 500 BC, was seized by the Taliban fighters in Herat. Witnesses reported hearing gunfire from one government building, while the rest fell silent under insurgents.
Herat was under militant attack for over two weeks. Ismail Khan’s forces stopped one wave of attacks. On Thursday afternoon, Taliban fighters broke through the city’s defence lines and claimed they had taken control.
Semin Barakzai, an Afghan lawmaker, also acknowledged the city’s fall and said that some officials had escaped. Witnesses claimed to have seen Taliban fighters who were once held at Herat’s prison, now free to move on the streets.
Khan was previously described as being under attack by his forces at a government structure. It wasn’t immediately obvious what happened to Khan.
Witnesses said that the Taliban took the Kandahar governor’s office as well as other buildings. Witnesses said that the governor and other officials fled from the Taliban’s onslaught and took it to Kabul. The government has not yet acknowledged their defeat, so they declined to name them publicly.
Officials said that the Taliban had previously attacked a Kandahar prison and released inmates.
Thursday was an earlier day when the militants flew their white flags with an Islamic proclamation to faith above Ghazni, located just 130 km (80 miles) south of Kabul.
Amanullah Kamrani, a Ghazni provincial councillor, claimed that the Taliban and the provincial government made a deal to flee after they surrendered. Taliban photos and video purportedly show the governor’s convoy passing freely by insurgents as part of the deal.
Mirwais Stanekzai, a spokesperson for the Afghan Interior Ministry, later stated that the governor and his deputy had been detained over this alleged deal. They could not immediately be reached for comment.
Stanekzai also admitted in a video message that Ghazni’s parts had fallen but insisted that security forces from the government still exist in the city.
Ghazni, which is located along the Kabul–Kandahar Highway, could hinder resupply and movement of government forces and squeeze capital from the south.
Already, nine provincial capitals have been seized by the Taliban during the week-long blitz. Many are in the northeast corner of the country, and they are also pressing Kabul from this direction.
Southern Afghanistan is the Taliban’s heartland. Heavy fighting continued in Lashkar Gah, where the Taliban and surrounding government forces sought to seize control of Helmand province’s capital.
Helmand lawmaker Nasima Niazi criticized the ongoing airstrikes in the area and said civilians had likely been injured or killed.
She said that the Taliban used civilian homes to protect themselves and that the government, which didn’t pay any attention to civilians at all, conducted airstrikes.
According to The Cavell Group, an Australian security firm, the tracking data suggests that the U.S. Air Force B52 bombers, F-15 fighter planes, and other aircraft were involved with the fighting in Afghanistan, despite the limited airpower Afghan Air Force.
U.S. Air Force Maj. Nicole Ferrara, the spokeswoman for Central Command, stated that American forces had conducted “multiple airstrikes to defend our Afghan partners in the recent days.” She declined to give any further details or discuss Afghan complaints about civilian casualties.
A senior Afghan official spoke on Thursday night under anonymity to discuss the developments. He said that the Taliban had also taken western Badghis province, but not the provincial army corps or the intelligence department. Insurgents claimed to have captured the provincial governor’s seat, the police headquarters and other government offices.
Diplomats met in Doha (Qatar) on Thursday to discuss whether or not they will ever join long-stalled peace negotiations aimed at moving Afghanistan towards an administration that includes members from the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Taliban could either be brought to power by force or split into factions, as it did in 1989 after the Soviet withdrawal.