Taliban's grip on Afghanistan grows as they capture two more cities

Taliban’s grip on Afghanistan grows as marauding Islamists capture two more key cities during rapid offensive that has overwhelmed government forces

  • The northern cities of Kunduz and Sar-e-Pul fell within hours of each other after government forces were unable to defeat Taliban
  • The Islamist militants have taken control of four provincial capitals since Friday
  • A Taliban flag could be seen raised on the main square of Kunduz after fighting

The Taliban have captured two more key provincial capitals in northern Afghanistan as the Islamist militants continue their offensive.

The cities of Kunduz and Sar-e-Pul fell within hours of each other Sunday after government forces were unable to defeat the advancing insurgents.    

The insurgents have taken control of four provincial capitals since Friday in a rapid offensive that has overwhelmed government forces. 

Fighting ensued between the two sides in Kunduz, the capital of Kunduz province, but the Taliban were able to take over the governor’s office and police headquarters, Ghulam Rabani, a provincial council member said on Sunday. They also have control of the main prison building, he added. 

A Taliban flag could be seen raised on the main square of Kunduz following the fighting.  

All but the city’s airport had fallen to the Taliban, but Rabani said fighting was continuing there. 

A Taliban flag could be seen raised on the main square of Kunduz following the fighting on Sunday

The cities of Kunduz and Sar-e-Pul fell within hours of each other Sunday after government forces were unable to defeat the advancing insurgents. Pictured: Afghans inspect damaged shops after fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in Kunduz city on Sunday

The insurgents have taken control of four provincial capitals since Friday in a rapid offensive that has overwhelmed government forces

A Kunduz resident described the city as being enveloped in ‘total chaos’.

‘After some fierce fighting, the mujahideen, with the grace of God, captured the capital of Kunduz,’ the Taliban said in a statement.

‘The mujahideen also captured Sar-e-Pul city, the government buildings and all the installations there.’

Kunduz is a strategic crossroads with good access to much of northern Afghanistan as well as the capital, Kabul, about 200 miles away, and is the most significant Taliban gain since the insurgents launched an offensive in May.

It has been a perennial target for the Taliban, who briefly overran the city in 2015 and again in 2016 but never managed to hold it for long.

Parwina Azimi, a women’s rights activist in Sar-e-Pul, said that government officials and the remaining forces had retreated to a barracks about two miles from the city.

‘A plane came… but could not (land),’ she said.  

The ministry of defence said government forces were fighting to retake key installations.

‘The commando forces have launched a clearing operation. Some areas, including the national radio and TV buildings, have been cleared of the terrorist Taliban,’ it said in a statement. 

Fighting ensued between the two sides in Kunduz, the capital of Kunduz province, but the Taliban were able to take over the governor’s office and police headquarters, Ghulam Rabani, a provincial council member said on Sunday. They also have control of the main prison building, he added

A Taliban surge has intensified as US and Nato troops wrap up their withdrawal from the country.

With Taliban attacks increasing, Afghan security forces and government troops have retaliated with air strikes aided by the United States. The fighting has raised growing concerns about civilian casualties.

On Saturday, Taliban fighters entered the capital of Jawzjan province after sweeping through nine of 10 districts in the province. Several other of the country’s 34 provincial capitals are threatened as Taliban fighters sweep through large swathes of Afghanistan at a surprising speed.

On Friday the Taliban seized their first provincial capital, Zaranj in southwestern Nimroz on the border with Iran, and followed it up a day later by taking Sheberghan in northern Jawzjan province the following day.

Fighting was also reported on the outskirts of Herat in the west, and Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in the south.

The pace of Taliban advances has caught government forces flatfooted, but they had some respite late Saturday after US warplanes bombed Taliban positions in Sheberghan.

Meanwhile, air strikes damaged a health clinic and high school in the capital of southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a provincial council member said on Sunday.

A Defence Ministry statement confirmed that air strikes were carried out in parts of the city of Lashkar Gah. It said forces targeted Taliban positions, killing 54 fighters and wounding 23 others, but made no mention of a clinic or school being bombed.

Majid Akhund, deputy chairman of the Helmand provincial council, said air strikes hit a health clinic and a school in the city’s 7th police district late on Saturday, but he said the area is under Taliban control so any casualties could have been caused by the Taliban there.

Meanwhile, air strikes damaged a health clinic (pictured) and high school in the capital of southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a provincial council member said on Sunday

A damaged school is seen after airstrikes in Lashkar Gah city of Helmand province, southern of Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday

Dr Ahmad Khan Weyar, an official from the Helmand public health department, said a nurse was killed when an air strike hit a health clinic, and a guard was injured.

‘American invaders bombed and destroyed another hospital and school in Helmand,’ the Taliban said in a statement. It said Safyano Hospital and Muhammad Anwar Khan high school were bombed.

The clinic in Lashkar Gah was offering services mostly to nomads who were passing through the area, according to Mr Akhund, but in recent days the area was under Taliban control and Taliban may have been treated there.

Heavy fighting has taken place in and around Lashkar Gah and both US and Afghan government air forces have carried out air strikes in the city. The Taliban control nine of the city’s 10 police districts.

‘US forces have conducted several air strikes in defence of our Afghan partners in recent days,’ Major Nicole Ferrara, a Central Command spokesperson, told AFP in Washington.

Sheberghan is the stronghold of notorious Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, whose militiamen and government forces were reported to have retreated to the airport.

Dostum has overseen one of the largest militias in the north and garnered a fearsome reputation fighting the Taliban in the 1990s – along with accusations his forces massacred thousands of insurgent prisoners of war.

Any retreat of his fighters would dent the government’s recent hopes that militia groups could help bolster the country’s overstretched military.

The government has said little about the fall of the provincial capitals, other than vowing they would be retaken.

That has been a familiar response to most Taliban gains of recent weeks, although government forces have largely failed to make good on promises to retake dozens of districts and border posts.

The withdrawal of foreign forces is due to be complete at the end of this month, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States that sparked the invasion which toppled the Taliban.

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