Taliban fighters entered the capital of northern Afghanistan’s Jawzjan province on Saturday, a provincial lawmaker said, after razing nine of the province’s 10 districts.
The government did not deny legislator Mohammad Karim Jawzjani’s claim that Taliban fighters had entered Sheberghan, but said the city had not fallen. If the city falls, it will be the second provincial capital in as many days to succumb to the Taliban. Several others of the 34 provincial capitals of the country are threatened.
On Friday, the Taliban seized control of the provincial capital of Zaranj, southwest of Nimroz, where the government says it is still fighting insurgents inside the capital.
Sheberghan is particularly strategic because it is the stronghold of the US-ally Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum, whose militias are among those resurrected to aid the Afghan Defense and National Security Forces.
Sheberghan residents reported heavy airstrikes, who also said the Taliban had released the prisoners from the city jail. They requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from both sides.
Taliban fighters have traversed large swaths of Afghanistan at surprising speed, initially taking over districts, many in remote areas. In recent weeks they have besieged several provincial capitals across the country as the last of the US and NATO troops leave the country. The US Central Command says the recall is more than 95% complete and will be complete on August 31.
The US Air Force continues to assist the Afghan air force’s bombardment of Taliban targets in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar as Afghan security forces try to prevent a Taliban takeover.
On Saturday, the US and British embassies in Kabul repeated a warning to their citizens who were still there to leave “immediately” as the security situation deteriorated.
The US embassy in Kabul also issued a statement on Saturday condemning the Taliban’s military attack saying it was contrary to the insurgent group’s claim to support a negotiated peace agreement.
The statement called for an immediate end to the fighting and the start of “negotiations to end the suffering of the Afghan people and pave the way for an inclusive political settlement that benefits all Afghans and ensures that Afghanistan no longer serves as a safe haven for the terrorists”. . “
On Friday, Taliban fighters assassinated Dawa Khan Menapal, the Afghan government’s chief of press operations for local and foreign media. It came just days after a coordinated attempt was made to kill acting defense chief Bismillah Khan Mohammadi in a posh and deeply safe neighborhood of the capital.
In a report to the UN Security Council on Friday, the UN envoy for Afghanistan urged the council to demand that the Taliban stop attacking cities immediately in their offensive to take more territory.
Deborah Lyons also called on the international community to urge both sides to stop fighting and negotiate to avoid a “catastrophe” in the war-torn country.
In the southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, thousands of Afghans were displaced by the fighting and lived in miserable conditions.
In Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, Afghanistan’s elite commando forces with the help of regular troops were trying to dislodge the Taliban, but with little success, said Nafeeza Faiez, a member of the provincial council. The Taliban control nine of the city’s 10 police districts.
Faiez said conditions for residents are desperate as they shelter inside their homes, unable to get supplies or reach hospitals for treatment. Many of the public buildings have also been severely damaged in the fighting.
“People don’t have access to any services,” he said.
More than half of Afghanistan’s 421 districts and district centers are now in the hands of the Taliban. While many are in remote regions, some are extremely strategic, giving the Taliban control of lucrative border crossings with Iran, Tajikistan, and Pakistan.
The insurgent force closed one of the country’s most lucrative borders with Pakistan on Friday at Spin Boldak in southeastern Afghanistan. The Taliban were protesting Pakistan’s demand that all Afghans crossing the border must have Afghan passports and Pakistani visas.
The group said Pakistan was implementing the Afghan government’s demands and demanded that previous procedures be reestablished in which identities were rarely verified when people crossed the border.
Thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis cross the border daily and a steady stream of trucks cross it, bringing goods to landlocked Afghanistan from the port city of Karachi on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea.
Hundreds of people waited Saturday to pass and more than 600 trucks, many loaded with fresh perishable food, were backed up in both countries.
Islamabad’s relationship with Kabul has been troubled, with both sides accusing each other of harboring militants. Afghan Taliban leaders live in Pakistan and Kabul bitterly criticizes Pakistan for helping them and treating their fighters in Pakistani hospitals. Meanwhile, Islamabad accuses Kabul of providing a safe haven for the Pakistani Taliban, a separate militant group that regularly organizes attacks in Pakistan.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism