After a recent series of territorial gains as US and foreign troops withdraw, the Taliban are now in control of 65 percent of Afghanistan, according to a senior EU official.
On Tuesday, Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of the northern province of Baghlan, became the seventh regional capital to be captured by the Taliban in the last week, as local residents described seeing Afghan security forces leaving the area and returning to an army base in the Kelagi desert, Reuters reported.
The losses to the Taliban prompted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to issue a call to regional leaders and militias to shore up his government, asking civilians to defend the country’s “democratic fabric.”
A UN official stated that 20 years of human rights advances made since the ousting of the Taliban from power were in danger of disappearing.
The Taliban’s strategy is reportedly to attempt to wrestle control of the north of the country along with major border crossings, in an attempt to surround Kabul.
The Afghan government is countering the Islamist group’s moves by removing its troops from areas that are hard to defend, preferring to focus on protecting heavily populated areas. They are also lobbying Pakistan to bring to an end reinforcements and supplies for the Taliban being smuggled over the open border region between the two countries.
With negotiations between Washington and the Taliban stalled, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stressed that the Biden administration still believed that dialogue was the only solution.
“Ultimately, our view is that the Afghan national security defense forces have the equipment, numbers and training to fight back, which will strengthen their position at the negotiating table,” Psaki said at a press briefing. “The president continues to believe that it is not inevitable that the Taliban takes over Kabul or the country.”
Zarani was the first provincial capital to be captured by the Taliban since a February 2020 deal reached between the United States and the Islamist group announcing the US military withdrawal from the country.
A source told Reuters that the Taliban had overtaken the governor’s office, the police building and an area near the border with Iran.
Meanwhile, in Kabul the Taliban killed government spokesman Dawa Khan Menapal. The murder of Menapal, who was the head of the Government Media and Information Centre, is seen as a major blow to the government of Afghani President Ashraf Ghani.