Taliban capture three other provincial capitals and target major cities

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Afghanistan Updates

The Taliban have taken control of three other provincial capitals in Afghanistan as Joe Biden reaffirmed his decision to pull US troops out of the country, even as the militant group makes sizable territorial gains.

The Islamist insurgent group has captured nine, or more than a quarter, of the country’s provincial capitals, including Puli Khumri, a strategically important town on the route to Kabul from the traditionally anti-Taliban north.

The Taliban also took control of Faizabad in the mountainous northeast, a well-fortified city that had remained beyond the group’s reach when it ruled the country in the 1990s.

The Taliban have taken control of more than half of Afghanistan’s some 400, mostly rural, districts and a number of economically important border crossings.

The group turned its attention to major cities such as Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif, the main resistance stronghold in the north. Diplomats and analysts said the Taliban’s strategy was to surround Kabul and lock up Afghan forces in the capital in a bid to pressure President Ashraf Ghani’s government to surrender.

The rapid advance stunned experts, but Biden reiterated his intention to pull the remaining US troops out of the country by the end of this month, arguing that it was up to the Afghans to defend themselves.

“Look, we have spent over $ 1 billion over 20 years, we have trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces,” Biden said Tuesday. “The Afghan leadership must come together. . . They have to fight for themselves, to fight for their nation.

The United States has shut down its largest base and is carrying out limited airstrikes from outside the country, but analysts said efforts had done little to slow the Taliban offensive.

The US president has faced sharp criticism in the region, with some saying the hasty withdrawal has given the Taliban the upper hand and demoralized the Afghan armed forces.

Other countries, including the UK and India, have also reduced their presence in the country. New Delhi on Tuesday withdrew its staff from its consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif and asked its citizens to leave the country. Analysts said the decisions were a sign of their limited confidence in the ability of Ghani’s government to withstand the Taliban onslaught.

German officials said on Wednesday they were suspending deportations of migrants to Afghanistan until the end of October “due to the current development of the security situation.” The decision to freeze the expulsions came at the request of the Afghan government, according to Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who called the decision “just and necessary”.

Khalid Payenda, the acting finance minister of Afghanistan, resigned on Wednesday and left the country.

The Taliban’s gains have sparked an influx of domestic refugees, as residents flee fighting and brutality inflicted by Islamists. The Taliban have reportedly executed rivals and abolished women’s freedoms in areas where they have taken control.

The Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan was overthrown by a US-led invasion following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda. The insurgents want to establish an Islamist emirate in Afghanistan.

The prospect of a protracted civil war or a total takeover by the Taliban has raised fears in Europe of a potential refugee crisis. “We do not want to sink into chaos,” said a senior EU official.

The official said hopes were fading for a negotiated solution to the conflict. “The withdrawal of US, European and other military forces was planned,” the official said. “There was hope that this would happen at the same time that a political agreement was reached at the negotiating table. It’s not yet the case. “

Turkey has offered to keep its 500-man battalion in Afghanistan to secure Kabul international airport after the US withdrawal. The Turkish defense minister was in Pakistan this week and met with Imran Khan, the prime minister, who said his country would “use our influence” to encourage the Taliban to engage in direct talks with Turkey, according to Reuters.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he would be ready to speak to Taliban leaders. “Our relevant institutions are currently working until we reach negotiations with the Taliban.”

Diplomacy and political dialogue were necessary to accomplish what could not be achieved militarily, Erdogan said.

But other diplomats have said the unconditional nature of the U.S. withdrawal, based on a deal the Taliban signed in 2020 under Donald Trump’s administration, did little to encourage the group to compromise.

“The way the United States conducted this withdrawal, they hadn’t thought about ‘how to properly hand over their hands?’” Said another Western diplomat. “Afghan security forces and Afghan morale have been severely affected. “

Additional reporting by Henry Foy in Brussels, Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul

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