Sunday September 19, 2021

Taliban seize second provincial capital Sheberghan in two days

"The Taliban are everywhere," Sheberghan resident says as provincial capital falls to Taliban
AFP
August 08, 2021
Reuters
Reuters 

Kabul: On Saturday, the second provincial capital, Sheberghan, was taken over by the Taliban in under 24 hours, officials reported. 

The Deputy Governor of Jawzjan province told AFP that government forces had abandoned Sheberghan city and retreated to the airport on its outskirts, where they were preparing to defend themselves.

Sheberghan is home to warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, who only returned to Afghanistan this week from medical treatment in Turkey, but is currently in Kabul.

Aides said he was meeting with President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday in an attempt to persuade the country's leader to fly in reinforcements.

"We have demanded the government deploys at least 500 commandos so we could work to retake the city," said the party's spokesman, Ehsan Niro.

The Taliban have taken control of vast tracts of rural Afghanistan since early May when they launched a series of offensives to coincide with the start of the withdrawal of foreign troops.

At that time, the Afghan government largely abandoned the countryside to the group but is now scrambling to defend a string of cities.

The war has also returned to the capital, with a senior government information official shot dead in the street on Friday, three days after the defence minister survived an assassination attempt.

The Taliban are everywhere

Qader Malia, deputy governor of Jawzjan province, told AFP that Sheberghan had "unfortunately fallen", but interior ministry spokesman Marwais Stanikzai insisted the Taliban had occupied only parts of the city.

"The security forces, backed by reinforcements and the uprising forces, will once again clear the city from the terrorists," Marwais Stanikzai said.

The statement given by the interior ministry has been a regular response to most Taliban gains in recent weeks. Government forces have largely failed to make good on promises to retake dozens of districts and border posts.

One resident of Sheberghan contacted by AFP said people were staying behind closed doors, fearful for their future.

"The Taliban are everywhere, with their flags, but from what I see through the window, the streets are deserted," the citizen stated, asking not to be named.

"The fighting has subsided inside the city... but we hear that the Taliban are moving towards the airport."

On Friday, Zaranj city in Nimroz fell "without a fight", according to its deputy governor, becoming the first provincial capital to be taken by the Taliban.

There was more resistance in Sheberghan, several sources told AFP, but an aide to Dostum confirmed the city had been taken.

Dostum has overseen one of the largest militias in the north and garnered a fearsome reputation fighting the Taliban in the 1990s, alongside accusations that his forces massacred thousands of insurgent prisoners.

Any retreat of Dostum's fighters would dent the government's recent hopes that militia groups can help bolster the country's overstretched military.

In Zaranj, social media posts suggested the Taliban were welcomed by some residents of the desert city.

The social media posts showed captured military Humvees, luxury SUVs, and pickups speeding through the streets, flying white Taliban flags as local residents - mostly youths and young men - cheered them on.

On entering Zaranj the insurgents opened the gates of the city jail, officials said, freeing Taliban prisoners.

Videos on Twitter showed mobs looting government offices, stealing desks, office chairs, cabinets, and televisions.

A fresh social media video emerged Saturday of similar scenes from Sheberghan, however, the accuracy of the clips could not be confirmed.