The Taliban captured another provincial capital on Monday and put pressure on the region’s largest city, Mazar-i-Sharif, following a superb weekend offensive in which insurgents invaded a series urban centers in northern Afghanistan.
Armed fighters invaded the town of Aibak without encountering resistance. The deputy head of Samangan province confirmed that the local governor had withdrawn his soldiers in order to protect the civilian population. The Taliban controlled “full control,” said Sefatullah Samangani.
The Taliban posted a video of their triumphant fighters standing in front The main administrative building of Aibak, and on a road on the outskirts. The city is a key route for the supply of goods to northern Afghanistan. His capture leaves pro-government forces in the region increasingly isolated.
The Taliban have now invaded six provincial capitals in a matter of days. On Sunday, the group scored a huge symbolic victory when its fighters seized Kunduz, a strategic town near the border with Tajikistan and a major political and military center. He also claimed responsibility for Sheberghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan province, and neighboring Taloqan. On Monday, his forces were advancing towards Pul-e Khomri, another northern provincial capital.
“The town of Aibak unfortunately fell into the hands of the Taliban on Monday afternoon,” a local official confirmed by telephone to the Guardian. “Taliban fighters, armed with heavy weapons, besieged the city for a week. He fell smoothly.
The official added, “Local security forces and officials withdrew from one side and about 30 minutes later the Taliban entered the city from another side. Kabul did not send aid. The Taliban now control the headquarters of the police, governor and intelligence services. People are worried. The shops are closed. Many government employees and local people have fled in recent days.
Another senior local official blamed a former senator and local strongman for the city’s downfall after changing sides on Sunday and joining the Taliban with 300 of his men. Switching sides has been a tactic for decades in war-torn Afghanistan.
“The Taliban were able to take over the city without a fight because Asif Azimi, a former Mujahedin commander, joined the Taliban. This frightened the security forces and they left, ”the official said. “The local governor asked him a few days ago to help defend the city. He agreed and entered but fled again after taking up arms. Sunday evening, he joined the Taliban.
Group spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said its fighters had now entered Mazar-i-Sharif, the most populous city in the north. Its fall would deal a devastating and possibly fatal blow to the government in Kabul. Officials and residents contacted by phone said the Taliban was exaggerating. They confirmed clashes in surrounding neighborhoods.
“The enemy is trying to distort public opinion and create anxiety among the civilian population through its propaganda,” said a statement from the police in Balkh province, of which Mazar-i-Sharif is the capital. Atta Mohammad Noor, a northern militia commander, vowed to fight to the end, saying there would be “resistance to the last drop of my blood.” “I’d rather die with dignity than die in despair,” he tweeted.
On Monday, Unicef said it was “shocked” by the recent escalation in violence; 27 children were killed and 136 injured in three days. “These are not numbers. Each of these deaths and each case of physical suffering is a personal tragedy, ”declared Hervé Ludovic De Lys, UNICEF representative in Afghanistan.
Elsewhere in the country, the Taliban have started looking for government employees in the newly captured territories.
“I refused to go to my office on Thursday and fled to a nearby village, to stay with a relative,” said Shahla, a woman who had been a local prosecutor for four years in the town of Zaranj. On Friday, the Taliban seized control of Zaranj in the southwestern province of Nimroz – the first provincial capital to be captured by insurgents since the Biden administration announced in May it was withdrawing US troops.
“Then I came to Herat with only my clothes on Saturday, leaving everything behind. It was a horrible trip. The Taliban had checkpoints all over the road and checked our vehicle several times along the highway. They only asked questions of the men. I was wearing a burqa. It was hot as hell, but that was my only protection.
The Taliban have started giving so-called “immunity cards” to soldiers and officials in the same town, asking anyone with ties to the government to come and register, locals told the Guardian. Employees are invited to come to the local governor’s office and, after a few questions, receive their cards.
“The Taliban warned the people that if they cooperated with the government in the future, they would be killed instantly, without any trial. Many have done it, but I can’t. They are not trustworthy. I guess they’re looking for high-ranking officials, ”one resident said over the phone.
Shahla said she was skeptical of the plan. “I was afraid to tell them that as a woman I was working for the government. I couldn’t trust them. I was worried they would stone me to death for what I have done for the past four years. I have already received several threats from them.