Afghanistan's collapse accelerates as 2 vital cities fall to Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan – Two major cities in western and southern Afghanistan were on the verge of collapse in the face of the Taliban on Th...


KABUL, Afghanistan – Two major cities in western and southern Afghanistan were on the verge of collapse in the face of the Taliban on Thursday, as the insurgents’ race to take control of the country accelerated.

With the Taliban’s sudden gains in Kandahar, in the southern Pashtun country, and in Herat, a vital cultural and economic center, the insurgents appear to be on the verge of a full military takeover. Only four major cities, including the capital Kabul, remain under government control, and two of them are under siege by the Taliban.

Both towns were heavily defended, in battles that raged for weeks. But more and more, the Afghan security forces seem to be collapsing, with many soldiers and police having deserted and even changed sides in some places.

The two cities offer resounding victories for the Taliban, who have swept the country in a brutal military campaign since international troops began withdrawing in May. Insurgents now control more than half of the country’s roughly 400 districts. And with the fall of Kandahar and Herat, as well as another provincial capital south of Kabul, Ghazni – all Thursday – insurgents will control 12 provincial capitals.

Kandahar, in particular, is a huge prize for the Taliban. It is the economic center of southern Afghanistan, and was the birthplace of the insurgency in the 1990s and served as the capital for militants during their five-year reign. By seizing the city, the Taliban can effectively proclaim a return to power, or even total control.

For weeks, a mix of the Afghan army, commandos and special police units desperately tried to hold Kandahar town as it was under siege by the Taliban. But on Thursday, Taliban fighters broke through almost every front line surrounding the city, according to members of the security forces. They also invaded Kandahar Central Prison on Wednesday, freeing hundreds of inmates, using a strategy of swelling their ranks practiced for more than a decade.

Many Afghan forces retreated to the governor’s compound, which was also attacked by insurgents, according to a member of the Afghan security forces. The road to Kandahar airport was also the target of heavy gunfire from Taliban fighters. Within hours, nearly all of the commandos and special police units had fled the city, effectively handing it over to the Taliban, officials and witnesses said.

At the same time, northwest in Herat, the Taliban seized control of the city’s police headquarters after weeks of intense fighting. But Afghan forces and militias loyal to Ismail Khan, a former warlord, struggled to repel insurgent attacks as they advanced deeper into the city, even with additional support from the Afghan air campaigns. and Americans who tried to slow the advance of the Taliban, officials said. noted.

On Thursday, the Taliban broke through the front lines on the outskirts of the city and took control of most government buildings, including the police headquarters, which police officers fled in plain clothes that afternoon, according to a spokesperson for the Herat police. The Taliban also seized the home of Ismail Khan – a symbolic prize that signaled the defeat of his militia forces. Thursday evening, only the enclosure of the army corps remained under the control of the government.

“Most of the complexes collapsed without a fight,” said Sami Nusrat, spokesman for Herat police. “Some complexes and houses were burnt down by the Taliban. The Taliban open fire in the air to celebrate.

Ehsan Shafiq, a resident of Herat town, described hearing heavy fighting on Wednesday evening. But the next morning, the Taliban barely fired as they invaded the city from the east in an apparent surrender of Herat by government forces.

“They took it everywhere, the forces had already left there before. It was the process of Herat surrender to the Taliban, ”he said. “Now they stand in every square and are placed in government offices. “

Earlier Thursday, the Taliban also took control of Ghazni, the provincial capital and strategic city about 90 miles south of Kabul. By capturing Ghazni, the Taliban are in a better position to carry out attacks on Kabul, the country’s capital, from the south.

Fahim Abed, Najim Rahim, Asadullah Timory, Taimoor Shah, Jim Huylebroek and Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Afghanistan's collapse accelerates as 2 vital cities fall to Taliban
Afghanistan's collapse accelerates as 2 vital cities fall to Taliban
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