KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Another provincial capital in Afghanistan fell to the Taliban on Tuesday, this time in the country’s west, local officials said, in the seventh city to be overrun in less than a week.
The Taliban had been encroaching on Farah, the capital of the province of the same name, for some time, as the province has been a focal point for the group’s offensive operations in the west of the country for years.
Gulbuddin, a police officer in the city, said, like many Afghans, that government officials had fled to an army headquarters several miles outside the city and that Taliban fighters had breached the main prison. He said the streets were full of released prisoners.
The provincial governor, Masoud Bakhtor, denied that the rebels had captured the capital and said fighting was still going on.
But many Farah residents said there was little, if any, shooting in parts of the city, by Tuesday afternoon. Ahmed al-Zubayr, who lives in the city, said he heard or saw no sign of fighting.
He said: “The Taliban are walking in our neighborhood.”
Balqis Roshan, a member of parliament for Farah state, said the governor’s office and police headquarters had been seized, but fighting was still going on near the airport in the east of the city.
Farah’s possible downfall comes as Afghan security forces repel attacks in other cities, including in neighboring Herat province, where fighting has been reported outside the capital.
Heavy fighting erupted on Tuesday in another provincial capital, Puli Khumri, which is located on the highway linking northern provinces with the capital, Kabul, officials said. And in Badakhshan, a remote northern province once considered an anti-Taliban stronghold, insurgents were closing in on its capital.
A fenced basketball court in a downtown park has been converted into a refuge. On Monday, the displaced huddled together in temporary accommodation made up of little more than bed sheets stretched out on wooden poles.
Haseeb Seddiqi, a resident of Farah, said his neighbors had fled the city in recent days.
“We have been deceived by the government’s assurances,” he said. “They said the city would not collapse and they brought helicopters and planes and they would defend the city.”
In recent weeks, the Afghan government has done little to craft a plan to repel the Taliban’s military offensive, which has controlled nearly half of Afghanistan’s 400 provinces since the US withdrawal began on May 1.
Diplomats and officials from the United States and the United Nations say a nascent strategy to slow the Taliban’s streak of victories now exists. As they described it, the plan Closely complies with long-term US recommendations That the Afghans unite their remaining forces around vital roads and cities, as well as major border crossings, relinquishing most of the dozens of areas already captured by the Taliban.
How this plan takes into account the capture of seven regional capitals across the country remains unclear. As of Tuesday, Afghan security forces had not carried out any serious operations to retake the captured capitals.
He has exhausted the only temporary measure that Afghan military leaders have seemed to rely on in recent months – moving better-trained commandos from one vulnerable position to another to thwart the insurgent advance. Simply put, there are not enough of those forces to prevent the Taliban from capturing the provincial capitals.
The capture of Zaranj in Nimroz province on the Afghan-Iranian border on Friday highlighted this.
The 215th Afghan National Army Corps is responsible for security in both Zaranj and Lashkar Gah, the capital of neighboring Helmand province, which was also under siege for several days last week. Ultimately, the 215th Corps command shifted its focus to defending the Askar Gah, leaving Zerang open to the Taliban, who saw little resistance when they entered the city.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the pressure on the provincial capitals came in response to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s announcement, earlier this month, of his war strategy that includes the defense of cities. Another Taliban official said the attack on urban areas, which killed and injured thousands of civilians, was in response to US air strikes.
But whatever the reason, it has been clear for months that the Taliban, Confident of victory In battle, he walked away from peace negotiations with the Afghan government.
Although peace talks have been stalled for several months, Afghan representatives met with Taliban officials this week in Doha, Qatar, in an attempt to restart negotiations.
Abdullah Abdullah, head of Afghanistan’s Supreme Council for National Reconciliation, said the Taliban were ready to speed up peace talks, but continued to refuse to discuss any kind of political settlement. Instead, they continued to demand the release of Taliban prisoners, which the Afghan government rejected.
The city of Farah, with a population of about 50,000, was nearly captured in a Taliban attack in 2018, but the insurgents were defeated by US warplanes and ground forces.
Farah district is on the main highway to the western city of Herat, where Taliban fighters have also imposed a siege. The province also shares a border with Iran; Last month, the Taliban took control of the main border crossing there.
Capturing Farah and other cities in the region would allow the group to direct rebel fighters toward Herat or elsewhere to reinforce other positions, while also limiting the ability of Afghan security forces to relocate to aircraft, which are in short supply due to a lack of maintenance resources and overburdened pilots.
Despite the Taliban’s rapid switch from attacking rural areas to attacking cities, US air support has been silent. The United States provided only air support to Afghan security forces in two southern cities.
Except for the intervention of the White House or the Pentagon, this support is likely to end by August 31, as US forces complete their withdrawal.
Timur Shah reported from Kandahar and Thomas Gibbons Neve reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. Fahim Abed and Najm Rahim contributed reporting from Kabul.