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regular-article-logo Monday, 22 July 2024

Taliban enter Kandahar, seize posts

Assault on vital city comes after Biden reaffirmed his decision to pull out US troops

Adam Nossiter Kabul Published 11.07.21, 12:26 AM
The insurgents had been encroaching on Kandahar city, the capital of the province of the same name, for several weeks, capturing surrounding districts, before entering the city for the first time on Friday.

The insurgents had been encroaching on Kandahar city, the capital of the province of the same name, for several weeks, capturing surrounding districts, before entering the city for the first time on Friday. File picture

Taliban forces on Friday penetrated Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in a new phase of a sweeping insurgent offensive that has captured territory across the country since May 1, when US forces began withdrawing.

The insurgents had been encroaching on Kandahar city, the capital of the province of the same name, for several weeks, capturing surrounding districts, before entering the city for the first time on Friday.

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Taliban fighters entered Kandahar’s Seventh Police District on Friday, seizing houses and engaging with security forces in the area, said Bahir Ahmadi, the spokesman for the Kandahar governor. Commandos and other special forces units were battling the insurgents, proceeding cautiously because the area is heavily populated, Ahmadi said.

The Afghan Air Force struck a number of Taliban positions in neighbouring districts, as the insurgents attempted to push their way into the city.

The attack comes less than 24 hours after President Biden defended his decision to end American involvement in Afghanistan, asserting that the US can no longer afford the human cost or strategic distraction of a 20-year conflict that he said had strayed far from its initial mission.

In a nod to the ongoing instability, Biden said the US would remain engaged in diplomatic efforts and continue to support the Afghan government with money and supplies even after all US troops withdraw.

The President also affirmed that he did not believe a Taliban takeover of the whole country was inevitable, calling the Afghan security forces “better trained, better equipped and more competent in terms of conducting war”.

Despite Biden’s affirmations, the Afghan security forces have struggled to defend themselves against the Taliban, who in the span of just over two months have managed to seize at least 150 of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts.

Kandahar province, the main city in Afghanistan’s ethnic Pashtun heartland in the south, was the birthplace of the Taliban during the country’s civil war in the 1990s. And it has been a focus of the insurgents’ push in recent days. In the last week alone, insurgents captured Panjwai and Zharey, two districts that neighbour Kandahar city. They have also carried out a series of attacks on police outposts on the outskirts of the city.

Elsewhere in Kandahar Province, the Afghan security forces have been embroiled in fighting in Arghandab, another district bordering the provincial capital, and near the Pakistan border crossing of Spin Boldak.

In the western part of the country, Taliban militants captured two major border crossings his week, Islam Qala at the Iran border and Torghundi bordering Turkmenistan, local officials said. The loss of the border posts, both in the province of Herat, could prove costly, as they are the country’s largest, collecting a quarter of the country’s annual customs revenue, about $281 million.

While much of the country’s customs collection takes place in Herat, duties on oil, gas and fresh produce continue to be collected at the Iran border posts, now in the hands of the Taliban, officials said.

Iran’s customs spokesman said Thursday all trade with Afghanistan was suspended at the border crossings under the control of Taliban. The reaction has been different in another of Afghanistan’s neighbours, Tajikistan, where dozens of trucks continue to pour across the northern border every day at the Sher Khan Bandar post in Kunduz province.

Around Herat province, nearly a dozen districts have fallen in the last few days. A powerful local warlord, Ismail Khan, who has played a key role in Afghan politics for decades, vowed to deploy 1,500 fighters around the city to defend it against the Taliban.

New York Times News Service

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