Now the fourth largest city in the country, Mazar-i-Sharif, also fell into the hands of the armed Islamic forces. President Ghani addressed the people for the first time.
On Saturday, Taliban fighters took control of Mazar-i-Sharif, the last stronghold of the Afghan government in the north of the country. On Saturday, a regional official said security forces had fled to the Uzbek border. At the same time, the armed Islamic forces are turning more and more towards the Afghan capital, Kabul, while Western countries scrambled to bring their own and local Afghan staff to safety.
“The Taliban have taken control of Mazar-i-Sharif,” said Afzal Hadid, head of the Balkh provincial council. The fourth largest city in Afghanistan apparently fell to the Taliban without a fight. The soldiers left their equipment and made their way to the border crossing. “All the security forces have left the city,” Hadid said, even if sporadic clashes took place in an area outside the city centre.
The capture of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, is another major success for the Taliban, which has captured large parts of Afghanistan in the past few weeks since the decision to withdraw international forces. The government now has only two major cities – Jalalabad in the east and the capital, Kabul.
It has long been a target of the Taliban
The Islamists had been aggressively attacking Mazar-i-Sharif for about a week. They repeatedly tried from several sides to penetrate the economically powerful city of 500,000 people. The militias of the former governor, Muhammad Atta Nour, and the former warlord, Abd al-Rashid Dostum, had recently built an additional defense line north of the city to support the security forces. President Ashraf Ghani visited the besieged city of Mazar-i-Sharif a few days ago. At Mazar-i-Sharif, the German Armed Forces had a large field camp at Camp Marmal near the airport until recently. About 1,000 German soldiers were stationed there until the summer.
Security sources said that the Islamists entered the city around 9 pm (local time). Then they released prisoners from the city’s central prison. Muhammad Atta Nur and Abdur Rashid Dostum have reportedly fled to the city of Heratan on the border with Uzbekistan and are trying to cross the border. Other security forces will try the same as well.
The Taliban control 21 of the 34 district capitals
The second and third largest cities of the country – Kandahar and Herat – also fell into the hands of the Islamists. They now control 21 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals. Shortly before the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, local officials also confirmed the status of the provincial capital of Gardez in Paktia in the southeast of the country. On Saturday, two other small provincial capitals in the east – Asadabad in Kunar and Sharana in Paktika in the southeast – headed to the Taliban without a fight. The insurgents want to establish an “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” as they did before the 2001 US march.
With Puli Alam in Logar province, the Taliban also captured a provincial capital about 70 kilometers south of Kabul. On Saturday, they traveled 50 kilometers from the Afghan capital. Representative Hamida Akbari told the German News Agency that battles took place around Maidan Shar, the capital of Maidan Wardak province, which is about 35 kilometers from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Meanwhile, in Kabul, Western countries are rushing to get their citizens and staff to safety from the approaching Taliban. The first American soldiers arrived in the Afghan capital to secure the evacuations. A US representative said more troops will arrive by Sunday. But department spokesman John Kirby said the Islamists had tried to isolate the capital, which has a population of four million.
President Ghani spoke
After a long silence, the Afghan president commented on the tragic military situation in a televised address on Saturday. In doing so, he did not respond to speculation that he could resign in order to pave the way for a deal with the Islamists. All he said was that he had spoken to political leaders and international partners and wanted to present the results “soon”.
A little later, after Ghani’s meeting with political leaders, the presidential palace announced that they had agreed to form a “credible” negotiating team to represent the republic in peace talks with the Taliban. These have been running since September, but without any tangible progress. Recently, observers have repeatedly said that the Doha trial is dead.
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