Afghanistan: Taliban seize fifth Afghan provincial capital since Friday

Taloquan, the capital of Takhar province, is just the latest in a series of victories as foreign forces, led by the United States, complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The speed of the militants’ gains, which include the large town of Kunduz, has heightened concerns about the civilian toll. At least 27 children have been killed and 136 injured in the past 72 hours in Afghanistan, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement on Monday. UNICEF said most of the victims were in Kandahar province, where heavy fighting continues between Taliban forces and the Afghan army.

“These atrocities are proof of the brutal nature and scale of violence in Afghanistan which attacks already vulnerable children,” UNICEF said, adding that there are reports that children are being killed. “Increasingly recruited into the conflict by armed groups”.

On Friday, the first provincial capital, Zaranj, near the Iranian border, fell to the Taliban. The next one, Sherberghan, near the Turkmen border, fell on Saturday.

Insurgents then seized Kunduz, a strategically important provincial capital in northern Afghanistan on Sunday, making it the first major city to fall to the Taliban since its offensive began in May. With a population of 375,000, Kunduz was a major military capture.

Also on Sunday, Taliban forces mainly invaded the provincial capital of Sar-e-Pul, in the north of the country.

Over the past week, the United States has stepped up airstrikes against Taliban positions in an attempt to halt their advances. The Taliban accused the United States of bombing a hospital and a high school, as well as other civilian targets in Helmand province. CNN could not independently verify their claims.

“US forces have carried out several airstrikes to defend our Afghan partners in recent days,” Major Nicole Ferrara, spokesman for the US Central Command, told CNN on Sunday, dodging a question about the targets of the strikes.

A senior Afghan security official said that while things were moving quickly on the battlefield, US air support to Afghan military forces was still to end at the end of this month, when the US withdrawal is complete. The official said there had been no change in US policy despite the Taliban’s rapid advance on the ground.

“We need close air support,” the Afghan official told CNN over the weekend. “Things are getting nasty.”

US CentCom Commander Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie said publicly in July that the United States would cease air support to Afghan forces – and likely only undertake limited counterterrorism strikes – once the withdrawal is complete. All foreign forces are expected to leave Afghanistan by August 31.
Taliban capture Kunduz, first major Afghan city to fall into US troop withdrawal void
On Sunday evening, Muhammad Naeem Wardak, spokesman for the Taliban political bureau, warned the United States against further intervention in Afghanistan.

There is no ceasefire agreement with the Afghan government on the horizon as the Taliban pursue military gains, he told news network Al Jazeera Arabic. He also blamed the Afghan government for starting the recent fighting.

“The Afghan government is the one that chose to start the war in different provinces,” Wardak said. “The measures that (the) Taliban took were in response and in reaction to the attacks and actions of the government.”

The United States Embassy in Kabul criticized the Taliban offensive against Afghan cities, saying on Sunday that its actions to “forcefully impose its government are unacceptable and contradict its claim to support a negotiated settlement in the peace process. Doha “.

“They demonstrate a blind disregard for the well-being and rights of civilians and will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in this country,” the embassy said.

Last week, Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar said the recent Taliban offensive had killed more than 3,000 people across the country and displaced more than 300,000 in recent months.

Some 5,183 casualties were recorded in the first six months of the year – a 47% increase from 2020 – the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a July report. The report noted that the number of dead and injured rose dramatically from May, when the United States and its allies began to withdraw their troops.

CNN’s Kara Fox, Nina Avramova and Hannah Ritchie contributed to this report.

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