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Taliban claim to capture Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city

The UK government is also sending troops to Afghanistan to help its embassy staff leave the country.

Members of the Afghan Special Forces leave after a combat mission against Taliban in Kandahar province. 13 July 2021.
Members of the Afghan Special Forces leave after a combat mission against Taliban in Kandahar province. 13 July 2021.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Aug 12th 2021, 11:00 PM

THE TALIBAN HAS claimed to have captured Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, which would leave just the capital and pockets of other territory in the government’s hands.

“Kandahar is completely conquered. The Mujahideen reached Martyrs’ Square in the city,” a Taliban spokesman tweeted on an officially recognised account – a claim backed by a resident, who told AFP government forces appeared to have withdrawn en masse to a military facility outside the city.

It comes after a day of takeovers by the terrorist organisation.

The Pentagon said earlier today that it is to deploy around 3,000 troops to Afghanistan immediately to evacuate US embassy employees securely as the threat grows from the Taliban insurgency.

members-of-afghan-special-forces-regroup-after-heavy-clashes-with-taliban-during-the-rescue-mission-of-a-policeman-besieged-at-a-check-post-in-kandahar-province-afghanistan-july-13-2021-reutersd Members of Afghan Special Forces regroup after heavy clashes with Taliban during the rescue mission of a policeman besieged at a check post. 13 July. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

“The first movement will consist of three infantry battalions that are currently in the Central Command area of responsibility. They will move to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul within the next 24 to 48 hours,” said Defense Department spokesman John Kirby.

The UK government has also said it was sending 600 troops to Afghanistan to help its embassy staff leave the country.

“I have authorised the deployment of additional military personnel to support the diplomatic presence in Kabul, assist British nationals to leave the country and support the relocation of former Afghan staff who risked their lives serving alongside us,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.

The announcements came hours after Afghan troops abandoned the country’s third largest city - Herat – to the insurgents, as the morale of Afghanistan’s security forces appeared to collapse.

The government has effectively lost most of north, south and west Afghanistan in the past week, and is left holding the capital and a dwindling number of contested cities also dangerously at risk.

After being under siege for weeks, government forces today pulled out of Herat – an ancient silk road city near the Iranian border – and retreated to a district army barracks.

“We had to leave the city in order to prevent further destruction,” a senior security source from the city told AFP.

A Taliban spokesman, however, tweeted that “soldiers laid down their arms and joined the Mujahideen”.

Earlier today, the interior ministry confirmed the fall of Ghazni, about 150 kilometres from Kabul and along the major highway to Kandahar and the Taliban heartlands in the south.

“The enemy took control,” spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai said in a message to media, adding later the city’s governor had been arrested by Afghan security forces.

Pro-Taliban Twitter feeds showed a video of him being escorted out of Ghazni by Taliban fighters and sent on his way in a convoy, prompting speculation in the capital that the government was angered with how easily the provincial administration capitulated.

A security source told AFP that Qala-i-Naw, capital of Badghis province in the northwest, also capitulated today.

The province had agreed a ceasefire deal with the insurgents last month, but authorities have now yielded control, the source said.

In the end, Herat also fell with barely a fight.

“Right until this afternoon the situation in the city was normal,” Herat resident Masoom Jan told AFP.

“Late afternoon everything changed. They (the Taliban) entered the city in rush. They raised their flags in every corner of the city.”

Piling pressure

As the rout unravelled, Kabul handed a proposal to Taliban negotiators in Qatar offering a power-sharing deal in return for an end to the fighting, according to a member of the government’s team in Doha, who asked not to be named.

The conflict has escalated dramatically since May, when US-led forces began the final stage of a troop withdrawal due to end later this month following a 20-year occupation.

The loss of Herat and Ghazni piles more pressure on the country’s already overstretched airforce, needed to bolster Afghanistan’s scattered security forces, who have increasingly been cut off from reinforcements by road.

Pro-Taliban social media accounts also boasted of the vast spoils of war their fighters had recovered in recent days, posting photos of armoured vehicles, heavy weapons and even a drone seized by the insurgents at abandoned military bases.

In the past week, the insurgents have taken 12 provincial capitals and encircled the biggest city in the north, the traditional anti-Taliban bastion of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Fighting was also raging in Kandahar and Lashkar Gah – pro-Taliban heartlands in the south.

An official in Lashkar Gah said Taliban fighters were inching closer to government positions after a massive car bomb badly damaged the city’s police headquarters Wednesday evening.

This evening, a security source told AFP government forces in Lashkar Gah were also considering evacuating to nearby Camp Bastion, one of the largest US bases in the country.

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Prison raids

And in Kandahar, the Taliban said they had overrun the heavily fortified jail on Wednesday, adding that “hundreds of prisoners were released and taken to safety”.

The Taliban frequently target prisons to release incarcerated fighters and replenish their ranks.

The loss of the prison is a further ominous sign for the country’s second city, which has been besieged for weeks by the Taliban.

Kandahar was once the stronghold of the insurgents – whose forces coalesced in the eponymously named province in the early 1990s – and its capture would serve as both a tactical and psychological victory for the militants.

Hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the fighting that has enveloped the country.

In recent days, Kabul has been swamped by the displaced, who have begun camping out in parks and other public spaces, sparking a fresh humanitarian crisis in the already overtaxed capital.

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