Taliban seizes seventh Afghan provincial capital in five days
Taliban overruns Farah city in southwest Afghanistan, the seventh provincial capital to fall to the group in less than a week.August 10, 2021 (Al Jazeera) — The Taliban has captured the provincial capital of Farah in southwest Afghanistan, the seventh provincial capital the group has seized since Friday.
“This afternoon the Taliban entered the city of Farah after briefly fighting with the security forces. They have captured the governor’s office and police headquarters,” Shahla Abubar, a member of Farah’s provincial council, told the AFP news agency on Tuesday.
Local sources in the southwestern province of Farah also confirmed to Al Jazeera that the group has taken over the province’s eponymous capital city.
The Taliban has captured the province’s central prison, according to parliamentarian Abdul Nasri Farahi and provincial council member Shahla Abu Bakr.
Farah is now the second provincial city in the southwest of Afghanistan that the group has taken. On Friday, the Taliban captured neighbouring Nimruz province.
The capture of Farah also provides another border crossing into Iran for the group.
Abubar said local security forces had retreated towards an army base outside the city.
Local police spokesman Farooq Khalid told Anadolu Agency that intense clashes between government forces and the Taliban fighters were taking place. He claimed that more than 80 advancing Taliban fighters had been killed by security forces.
The Taliban, however, claimed to have reached the city centre.
“Two checkpoints were captured near the intelligence and police command centre a moment ago … The battle continues and the Mujahideen advance,” tweeted Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed.
In a major push to repel advancing Taliban from urban centres, the Afghan forces claimed they killed 361 Taliban fighters in air and ground offensives in the past 24 hours.
The defence ministry said the operations were conducted in the Nangarhar, Kunar, Logar, Paktia, Paktika, Maidan Wardak, Kandahar, Sar-e-Pul, Helmand, Kunduz, and Baghlan provinces.
The Taliban have captured seven out of 34 provincial capitals in the country in less than a week.
A senior EU official told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that Taliban forces now control 65 percent of Afghan territory, are threatening to take 11 provincial capitals, and are trying to deprive Kabul of its traditional support from national forces in the north.
Following the capture of Aybak on Monday, the Taliban have now overrun five provincial capitals in the north. They have also taken Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province, in the southwest.
On Tuesday, the Taliban claimed they were closing in on Mazar-i-Sharif – the region’s biggest city and a linchpin for the government’s control of the north – after capturing Sheberghan to its west, and Kunduz city and Taluqan to its east.
Fawad Aman, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said the Afghan forces had the upper hand there.
But Indian government shut its consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif on Tuesday, and urged its diplomats and Indian citizens to take a special flight home.
India, which has invested millions of dollars in development projects across Afghanistan, has now closed all its consulates, leaving only the embassy in Kabul operational, a government official said.
The Taliban are also now battling the Western-backed government for control of several other cities, including Lashkar Gah in Helmand, and Kandahar in the province of the same name.
The group had already gained vast parts of rural Afghanistan since launching a series of offensives in May to coincide with the start of the final withdrawal of foreign troops.
Violence against Afghan civilians by Taliban fighters “could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday, before urging a return to peace negotiations in Doha.
Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride, reporting from the Afghan capital Kabul, said that according to a report by the EU some 400,000 people have been internally displaced in Afghanistan in recent months.
“Quite a few of them are coming here to the relative safety of the capital, but they are putting a large strain on resources here,” McBride said.
“The Red Cross is saying that in its clinics in the past 10 days, they have been treating more than 4,000 people, civilians caught up in this conflict.”
The new wave of deadly clashes started last month when, after overrunning nearly 200 rural districts, the Taliban began assaults on major cities as they marched on Herat city, Kandahar city, Taluqan, and Lashkar Gah, causing panic and worry among millions of civilians.
The United States – due to complete a troop withdrawal at the end of the month and end its longest war – has all but left the battlefield.
However, Washington’s special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is now in Qatar to try and convince the Taliban to accept a ceasefire.
Omar Samad, non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council and former spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Al Jazeera that the Afghan delegation from Kabul and the Taliban delegation met separately on Tuesday with representatives of key stakeholder countries.
“It is expected that this will last two more days,” Samad said, adding that “the resolution has to come from the political side.”
“We’ve lost a lot of time; I think that many opportunities were wasted over the last three years,” Samad said.
“I think that there’s enough blame to be shared by all sides for not really pushing sincerely for a political resolution of the problem when it was possible. Now, it’s more difficult.”
Ali M Latifi contributed to this report from Kabul, Afghanistan.