Families flee as Taliban seize key Kandahar district
The Taliban have captured a key district in their former bastion of Kandahar after fierce night-time fighting with Afghan government forces, officials said Sunday, sending scores of families fleeing from the area.
The insurgents have pressed on with their campaign to capture territory across Afghanistan's rural areas since early May when the US military began its final pullout of troops from the violence-wracked country.
The fall of Panjwai district in the southern province of Kandahar comes just two days after US and NATO forces vacated their main Bagram Air Base near Kabul, from where they led operations for two decades against the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies.
The leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, hails from Panjwai.
Panjwai district governor Hasti Mohammad said Afghan forces and the Taliban clashed during the night, resulting in government forces retreating from the area. "The Taliban have captured the district police headquarters and governor's office building," he told AFP.
Kandahar provincial council head Sayed Jan Khakriwal confirmed the fall of Panjwai, but accused government forces of "intentionally withdrawing".
- 'Taliban don't want peace' -
Scores of families of Panjwai fled their homes after the Taliban captured the district, an AFP correspondent reported.
Assadullah, a commander of border police in the area, said it was only the police force that was fighting against the insurgents.
"The army and the commandos who have better military equipment are not fighting at all," he said.
Panjwai is the fifth district in Kandahar province to fall to the insurgents in recent weeks.
Afghan officials dispute the claims but acknowledge that government troops have retreated from some districts. It is difficult to independently verify the situation.
The exit of foreign troops from Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, has fuelled concerns the insurgents will ramp up their campaign to capture new territory.
Bagram Air Base has great military and symbolic significance, with foreign forces previously stationed there offering vital air support in the fight against the insurgents.
Afghan authorities who have taken control of Bagram Air Base say they will use it to fight terrorism, and have already re-activated its radar system.
The Panjwai fall added to 13 other districts – 11 districts in northeastern Afghanistan, one in the east and one in the south – which the Taliban had captured in the last 24 hours, the highest number of areas falling to the group in a day, reported TOLOnews on Sunday, quoting sources.
The fallen Afghan districts included Kishm, Darayim, Tishkan, Tagab, Wardooj, Shahr-e-Bozorg, Raghistan, Jorm and Yaftal in Badakhshan, Kalafgan and Farkhar districts in Takhar, Zurmat district in Paktia and Shah Wali Kot district in the southern province of Kandahar.
Some residents of Faizabad city, the centre of Badakhshan province, said that clashes between security forces and the Taliban have reached closer to the city, leaving the people with concerns about their safety.
“This is the 10th district that collapses one after another. The local government and the central government have forgotten them and are not paying attention to them,” said Saed Hayatullah, a resident of Faizabad.
Amidst concerning situation in Faizabad, the police chief of Badakhshan, Khalil-ur-Rahman Jawad is under treatment in Kabul as he has tested positive for Covid-19.
“What we should do is to mobilize the elders of the ‘resistance region’ and create history for the second time by the second generation of the resistance,” said Nilofar Ibrahimi, an MP from Badakhshan.
“They are faced with lack of logistics. The Air Force cannot address all areas. This is concerning,” said Sayed Muqaddam Amin, a former military officer.
“We have 16 administrative units. All collapsed one after another. The security situation in Taluqan is sensitive,” said Abdul Kabir, a resident of Taluqan.
“People are worried in Taluqan. There are displaced people on Taluqan’s streets and people are in a difficult situation,” said Mohammad Azam Afzali, member of Takhar provincial council.
But the Ministry of Defence said that 224 Taliban were killed in government forces operations in nine provinces in the last 24 hours. The ministry said that efforts will be made to retake the areas that have fallen to militants.
“The security and defence forces of Afghanistan will not spare any efforts,” said Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence.
Taliban attacks have increased after the start of the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan. On Friday, the US forces left Bagram Airfield, which was the largest military base for American troops in the country.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a new command structure in Afghanistan that includes the transition of US military mission from warfighting to two new objectives: protecting a continuing US diplomatic presence in Kabul and maintaining liaison with the Afghan military, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.
"General Miller will remain in theater in coming weeks to prepare for and to complete the turnover of these duties and responsibilities to General McKenzie," Kirby said. "Importantly, General McKenzie will retain all existing authorities as Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan."
He said that Gen McKenzie will continue to exercise authority over the conduct of any and all counterterrorism operations needed to protect the homeland from threats emanating out of Afghanistan.