Taliban Seizes First Afghanistan Provincial Capital

This is the beginning and see how other provinces fall in our hands very soon,” a Taliban commander has told Reuters news agency when addressing how the city of Zaranj in Nimruz province, southwestern Afghanistan, has fallen to them.

It is the first provincial capital to be captured since the group increased offensives. Nimruz is a relatively remote desert region and Zaranj has around 63,000 inhabitants. However, it is an important trading hub near the Iranian border which could give the Taliban a possible revenue source from customs.

Nimruz’s Deputy governor, Roh Gul Khairzad, confirmed that the Taliban have captured Zaranj “without a fight” because of the lack of reinforcements from the Afghan government. The insurgents had not captured a provincial capital, since 2016 when they briefly held Kunduz.

It is also reported that some looting of government buildings has taken place while the “Taliban insurgents were photographed inside the local airport and posing at the entrance to the city”, has said the BBC.

Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor James Bays, reporting from Kabul, confirmed that they “have taken control of the airport there in Zaranj, and of the key government buildings.”

United Nation’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, has said that the conflict is now in a “new, deadlier, and more destructive phase”, with more than 1,000 civilians killed in July. She has also pleaded to the UN Security Council to issue an “unambiguous statement that attacks against cities must stop now.”

The Taliban’s latest advances

Zaranj’s fall to the Taliban is believed to be a mostly symbolic victory rather than a military one. It represents a major blow to the Afghan government, currently defending other provincial capitals, and has boosted the morale of the Taliban.

After 20 years of war, encouraged by the withdrawal of US forces from the country, the Taliban have intensified their fight to defeat the Afghan government. So far, insurgents are rapidly advancing across the country and “have taken dozens of districts and border crossings and put pressure on several provincial capitals, including Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south”, states news outlet TRTWorld.

The Taliban’s offensive has stepped up by also carrying a series of assassinations to weaken President Ashraf Ghani’s government. Yesterday, the director of Afghanistan’s government media center, Dawa Khan Menapal, was killed by Taliban militants in Kabul. Days earlier, the group targeted Afghan defense minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi’s house. The attack killed eight people, but not the minister that was not at home at the time. Insurgents have repeatedly said that they would target senior administration officials in retaliation for increased airstrikes, which are occurring.

Peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators started last year in the Qatari capital of Doha, “but have not made any substantive progress”, Al Jazeera reports. As of now, US and Afghan forces have launched airstrikes in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, to avoid a greater strategical loss than Zaranj. Officials have urged civilians to evacuate the city immediately.

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