The fundamentalist Taliban group took control of Afghanistan’s sixth provincial capital on Monday (9) in just four days. This time it was the town of Aibak, consolidating the offensive in the north of the country.
Rebels attempt to forcibly regain control of Afghanistan, which they ruled between 1996 and 2001, following news that the United States will withdraw military troops from the country later this month, after two decades of war.
The military offensive left a trail of violence in its wake. UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) said Monday that at least 27 children had been killed and 136 injured in just three provinces in the past three days.
“UNICEF is shocked by the rapid escalation of serious violations against children in Afghanistan,” said Harvé Ludovic De Lys, the agency’s representative. “Atrocities are increasing every day,” he said.
The conquest of Aibak on Monday was claimed by the group and confirmed to the France Presse news agency by the deputy governor of the province of Samangan, of which the city is the capital. According to him, the governor called for the withdrawal of security forces to prevent residents from suffering from the fighting.
Aibak is the fifth provincial capital in the north of the country under Taliban rule. On Sunday (8), the armed group conquered three cities, including Kunduz, the most important advance insofar as it is a strategic point between the capital, Kabul, and Tajikistan.
The city, a crossing point for mineral-rich regions and a major urban center of 375,000 inhabitants, had been surrounded by the armed group for weeks, and fighting began on Friday evening, with mortars and heavy weapons, to which the government answered. with air strikes.
The government in Kabul has not yet abandoned Kunduz, however. The Defense Ministry said government troops were trying to regain control of the city.
In addition to Kunduz, the Taliban conquered Sunday (8) Sar-e Pol, capital of the province of the same name, and Taloqan, capital of Takhar province, where they released prisoners. In less than 24 hours, the group captured Sheberghan, capital of Jawzjan, also in the north, after intense clashes.
The advance from the north of the country could be fatal for the government in Kabul. The region was until now seen as a place of opposition to the Taliban, where the rebels encountered greater resistance during their period of rule in the country in the 1990s.
The government reacted. “The towns that the Taliban want to take will soon be their cemeteries,” Interior Ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai said. But a spokesperson for the group said in an interview with Al Jazeera TV on Sunday that the Taliban were unwilling to have a ceasefire with the government, and warned the United States against possible intervention. .
In addition to these northern towns, the Taliban have also controlled since Friday (6) Zaranj, capital of Nimroz, in the southwest of the state and near the Iranian border. For days, the armed group has been attacking three other capitals, Kandahar and Lashkar Gah to the south and Herat to the west.
The speed with which the group is advancing has surprised observers and even the country’s security forces. To contain the group, the United States has stepped up aerial bombardments, but actions have not been sufficient so far.
The Taliban have also carried out attacks in the capital, Kabul, further affecting the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which has been democratically elected and enjoys the support of Western countries.
On Saturday, the group killed an Air Force pilot, Hamidullah Azimi, with a bomb planted in his car in the country’s capital. Authorities said five people were injured. Azimi had been trained by the US Army and served in the Air Force for four years.
According to the Reuters news agency, the attack is part of a campaign by the group to kill US-trained Afghan soldiers – seven pilots have already been killed. The Afghan Air Force played a critical role in containing the group with aerial bombardments, as the Taliban did not have a plane.
On Friday, the military had already assassinated, in the capital, the head of the media and information center of the central government, Dawa Khan Menapal. On Thursday, the district chief of Sayed Abad was also assassinated in Kabul. Two days earlier, the Taliban attacked the home of Defense Minister General Bismillah Mohammadi, which left eight people dead – the minister survived.
The episodes are part of a series of killings committed by the Islamic fundamentalist group to weaken Ashraf Ghani. Dozens of activists, journalists, officials and judges who fought to maintain the current regime have been killed by the Taliban in recent weeks.