Taliban seize province close to the capital and assault Nordstadt

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The Taliban captured a province south of the Afghan capital and early Saturday launched a multi-pronged attack on a large city in the north that was being defended by powerful former warlords, Afghan officials said.

The insurgents have captured much of northern, western and southern Afghanistan in a breakneck offensive less than three weeks before the United States withdraws its last troops.

The Taliban captured all of Logar and arrested its provincial officials, Hoda Ahmadi, a provincial lawmaker, said Saturday. She said the Taliban had reached the Char Asyab district, which is just seven miles south of the capital, Kabul.

The Taliban also attacked the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif from multiple directions, sparking heavy fighting on its outskirts, according to Munir Ahmad Farhad, a spokesman for the provincial governor. There was no direct information about the victims.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani delivered a televised speech on Saturday, his first public appearance since the recent Taliban gains, in which he vowed to commemorate the “accomplishments” of the 20 years since the US toppled the Taliban after the Sept. September not to give up.

“We have started consultations with elders and political leaders, representatives of various levels of the community and our international allies within the government,” he said. “Soon the results will be shared with you,” he added without elaborating.

The president had flown to Mazar-e-Sharif on Wednesday to rally the city’s defenses and met with several militia commanders, including Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad Noor, who command thousands of fighters.

They remain allied with the government, but warlords have been known to switch sides during previous rounds of combat in Afghanistan in order to ensure their own survival. Ismail Khan, a powerful former warlord who tried to defend Herat, was captured by the Taliban when the insurgents captured the western city after two weeks of heavy fighting.

Mazar-e-Sharif residents expressed concern about the security breach.

“The situation is dangerous both outside the city and inside the city,” said Mohibullah Khan, adding that many residents are also struggling economically.

“The security situation in the city is getting worse,” said Kawa Basharat. “I want peace and stability. The fighting should end. “

The Taliban have made great strides in recent days, including capturing Herat and Kandahar, the country’s second and third largest cities. They now control 18 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, leaving the west-backed government in control of a few provinces in the center and east, as well as Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.

The withdrawal of foreign forces and the swift withdrawal of Afghanistan’s own troops – despite hundreds of billions of dollars in US aid over the years – has raised fears that the Taliban may return to power or the country may be crushed by factional struggles like the after the Soviet withdrawal 1989.

The first Marines from a contingent of 3,000 arrived Friday to assist with the partial evacuation of the U.S. embassy. The rest are due to arrive by Sunday, and their deployment has raised questions about whether the government will meet its August 31 exit deadline.

The Taliban meanwhile released a video announcing the takeover of the main radio station in the southern city of Kandahar and renaming it the Voice of Sharia or Islamic law.

In the video, an unnamed insurgent said all staff members were present and broadcast news, political analysis and recitations of the Koran, the Islamic holy book. Apparently the station is no longer playing music.

It was not clear whether the Taliban had cleaned up the former employees or allowed them to return to their jobs. Most of the residents of Kandahar wear the traditional clothing preferred by the Taliban. The man in the video congratulated the people of Kandahar on the Taliban’s victory.

The Taliban have used cellular radio stations over the years, but have not operated a transmitter in a major city since they ruled the country from 1996 to 2001. At that time they also operated a station called the Voice of Sharia from Kandahar, the birthplace of the militant group. Music was banned.

The US invaded shortly after the 9/11 attacks planned and carried out by al-Qaeda under the protection of the Taliban. After the Taliban’s swift expulsion, the US turned to nation-building in the hope of creating a modern Afghan state after decades of war and unrest.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced a schedule for the withdrawal of all US troops by the end of August and promised to end America’s longest war. His predecessor, President Donald Trump, had reached an agreement with the Taliban to pave the way for a US withdrawal.

Biden’s announcement launched the latest offensive. The Taliban, who have long controlled large parts of the Afghan countryside, moved quickly to seize provincial capitals, border crossings and other vital infrastructure.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled their homeland, many fear a return to the oppressive rule of the Taliban. The group had previously ruled Afghanistan under a harsh version of Islamic law in which women largely stayed at home.

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Rahim reported from Istanbul and Krauss from Jerusalem.

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