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Afghan government could fall to Taliban in 90 days, say US officials

Afghan government could fall to Taliban in 90 days, say US officials. Sarposa prison in Kandahar is latest site overrun by militants, with almost 1,000 prisoners released. US officials have warned that Afghanistan’s government could fall in 90 days, with Kabul isolated in as little as a month, as the Taliban overran the central Sarposa prison in Kandahar, the country’s second largest city, releasing almost 1,000 prisoners.

The fall of Kandahar – sometimes called the capital of the south – would be a devastating blow for the Afghan government after a week in which the Taliban have swept up provincial capitals around the country in a lightning offensive.

The latest setback for Afghan government forces came as Joe Biden urged Afghan leaders to “fight for their nation” after rapid advances by the Taliban.

The White House spokesperson, Jen Psaki, repeated the administration line on Wednesday, saying: “They have what they need. What they need to determine is whether they have the political will to fight back, and if they have the ability to unite as leaders to fight back.”

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She added: “We will continue to provide close air support. We’ll continue to resupply their forces with food and equipment, and pay all their salaries.”

Asked whether US air support for Afghan forces would stop on 31 August, the formal end to the US war in Afghanistan, she said: “I don’t have any update on that.” But she noted: “It’s a good question.”

With foreign embassies in Kabul, including the US embassy, discreetly accelerating evacuation planning in the event of the situation worsening, the Taliban’s succession of victories on the battlefield has caught out western capitals that have long sustained the Afghan government.

Afghan government could fall to Taliban in 90 days, say US officials

Sarposa prison in Kandahar is latest site overrun by militants, with almost 1,000 prisoners released
Displaced Afghans who have fled the advancing Taliban reach out for aid at a camp in Kabul, Afghanistan
Displaced Afghans who have fled the advancing Taliban reach out for aid at a camp in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Akhtar Mohammad Makoii in Herat, Peter Beaumont and Julian Borger in Washington
Wed 11 Aug 2021 19.36 BST

First published on Wed 11 Aug 2021 06.44 BST

US officials have warned that Afghanistan’s government could fall in 90 days, with Kabul isolated in as little as a month, as the Taliban overran the central Sarposa prison in Kandahar, the country’s second largest city, releasing almost 1,000 prisoners.

The fall of Kandahar – sometimes called the capital of the south – would be a devastating blow for the Afghan government after a week in which the Taliban have swept up provincial capitals around the country in a lightning offensive.

Salima Mazari sits on a hill observing the frontline against the Taliban surrounded by armed men.
‘Sometimes I have to pick up a gun’: the female Afghan governor resisting the Taliban
Read more

The latest setback for Afghan government forces came as Joe Biden urged Afghan leaders to “fight for their nation” after rapid advances by the Taliban.

The White House spokesperson, Jen Psaki, repeated the administration line on Wednesday, saying: “They have what they need. What they need to determine is whether they have the political will to fight back, and if they have the ability to unite as leaders to fight back.”

She added: “We will continue to provide close air support. We’ll continue to resupply their forces with food and equipment, and pay all their salaries.”

Asked whether US air support for Afghan forces would stop on 31 August, the formal end to the US war in Afghanistan, she said: “I don’t have any update on that.” But she noted: “It’s a good question.”

With foreign embassies in Kabul, including the US embassy, discreetly accelerating evacuation planning in the event of the situation worsening, the Taliban’s succession of victories on the battlefield has caught out western capitals that have long sustained the Afghan government.
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India announced on Wednesday that it was evacuating consular staff from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, one of the last remaining cities in that region not under Taliban control.

Confirming the fall of the prison, an official in Kandahar told the Guardian: “The Taliban broke into Kandahar prison around evening, they now have control over it. They started their attack on the prison last night.

“There are still a few places in Kandahar city under government control but the Taliban are in Ahmad Wali Khan Square. I don’t exactly don’t know the number of released inmates. But it is a lot.”

“The prison is on eastern outskirts of the city,” said another official. “The Taliban attacked that and hundreds of inmates were released. As far as I know many of them were criminals as political detainees were mostly transferred to Kabul in recent days.”

A Taliban spokesperson said that during the fight for the prison Afghan security forces had surrendered. “Kandahar central prison was conquered this afternoon after long-time siege,” he said. “Hundreds of inmates were released. Security personnel at the prison surrendered and gave them their ammunition.”

While western analysts and policymakers were already dubious about the ability of the Afghan security forces to withstand a fully fledged Taliban offensive, many had assumed the government could hold out for at least six months.

Retired general Joseph Votel, a former commander of US Central Command, said: “I‘m not surprised that the Taliban is putting a lot of pressure on the Afghan forces, particularly in the wake of our departure, and of most of the coalition forces as well. What I am surprised about is how quickly they are moving and seem to be consolidating.”

But with the Taliban claiming daily new advances, even the timescale of 90 days appears optimistic as the Afghan government – which the US has backed at a cost of $1tn over 20 years – appears to be collapsing in the face of the offensive.

The Taliban now control 65% of Afghanistan, senior EU officials say, and they have taken, or threatened to take, 11 provincial capitals.

US defence and intelligence officials, quoted anonymously in several media outlets on Wednesday, said the new assessment of how long Kabul could stand was due to the rapid gains the Taliban had made.

“But this is not a foregone conclusion,” one official told Reuters, adding that the Afghan security forces could reverse the momentum by putting up more resistance.

The dire predictions came as Faizabad, the provincial capital of the northern Badakhshan province, fell hours after the Taliban’s capture on Tuesday of Pul-e-Khumri, capital of the northern province of Baghlan, where Afghan security forces retreated toward the Kelagi desert.

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