Taliban seizes second provincial capital in Afghanistan in two days

A provincial politician said Taliban fighters have entered the capital of northern Afghanistan’s Jawzjan province, after overrunning nine out of 10 districts in the province.

The government did not deny politician Mohammad Karim Jozjani’s claim that Taliban fighters entered Sheberghan, but said the city did not fall.

If the city falls, it will be the second provincial capital in as many days to be under Taliban control.

Many of the country’s other 34 provincial capitals are under threat.

Yesterday, the Taliban captured Zaranj, the capital of southwestern Nimroz province, where the government says it is still battling militants inside the capital.

Sheberghan is a special strategy because it is the stronghold of the US-allied Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum, whose militia is among those revived to help the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces.

Sheberghan residents reported heavy air strikes, and also said the Taliban released prisoners from the city jail.

They requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from both sides.

Taliban fighters overran vast swathes of Afghanistan with astonishing speed, initially capturing districts, many of them in remote areas.

In recent weeks, they have laid siege to several county capitals across the country with the last US and NATO troops leaving the country.

US Central Command says the withdrawal is 95% complete and will be completed by August 31.

The US Air Force continues to assist the Afghan Air Force in bombing Taliban targets in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar as Afghan security forces try to prevent Taliban takeover.

Today, the US and British embassies in Kabul reiterated their warning to their citizens who remain there to leave “immediately” as the security situation deteriorates.

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Yesterday, Taliban fighters assassinated Dawa Khan Minapal, Afghan government’s head of press operations for local and foreign media.

This came a few days after a coordinated attempt to kill Acting Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi in a very safe neighborhood of the capital.

In a report to the UN Security Council yesterday, the UN envoy to Afghanistan urged the council to demand the Taliban immediately stop attacking cities in their offensive to seize more territory.

Deborah Lyons also called on the international community to urge both sides to stop the fighting and negotiate to prevent a “disaster” in the war-torn country.

In the southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, thousands of Afghans have been displaced by the fighting and are living in miserable conditions.

Nafeza Faiz, a member of the provincial council, said Afghan commandos, with the help of regular forces, in the capital of Helmand province, were trying to expel the Taliban but with little success.

Taliban forces control nine of the city’s 10 police districts.

Fayez said conditions for residents are miserable as they are holed up inside their homes, unable to get supplies or get to hospitals for treatment.

Several public buildings were badly damaged during the fighting.

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“People can’t access any service,” she said.

More than half of Afghanistan’s 421 districts and centers are now in Taliban hands.

While many are in remote areas, some are highly strategic, giving the Taliban control of lucrative border crossings with Iran, Tajikistan and Pakistan.

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The insurgent force yesterday closed one of the country’s most lucrative border with Pakistan at Spin Boldak in southeastern Afghanistan.

The Taliban protested Pakistan’s demand that all Afghans crossing the border hold Afghan passports and Pakistani visas.

The group said Pakistan was implementing the Afghan government’s demands and demanded that previous procedures in which identities are rarely checked when people cross the border, be reinstated.

Thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis cross the border daily, and a steady stream of trucks pass, transporting goods into landlocked Afghanistan from the port city of Karachi on the Arabian Sea in Pakistan.

Hundreds of people were waiting for the day to cross and more than 600 trucks loaded with fresh perishable food were backed up in both countries.

Islamabad’s relationship with Kabul has been turbulent, with the two accusing each other of harboring militants.

Afghan Taliban leaders live in Pakistan, and Kabul is highly critical of Pakistan for aiding and treating their fighters in hospitals in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Islamabad has accused Kabul of providing a safe haven to the Pakistani Taliban, a separate armed group that regularly launches attacks in Pakistan.

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