Taliban claim control over two major cities in Afghanistan
KABUL: Taliban on Friday claimed to have taken control over key southern Afghan cities of Lashkar Gah and Kandahar, after weeks of heavy clashes between the Taliban and government forces.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on his social media account that they overran government offices, including provincial police headquarters, in Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province, on Thursday night.
Helmand has been regarded as a Taliban stronghold during the past two decades, but Afghan soldiers were holding control over Lashkar Gah and many of the suburban districts.
He also claimed that the militants seized all parts of Kandahar city, capital of neighboring Kandahar province. Footages went viral on social media showed that Taliban fighters were patrolling in the city early Friday.
On Thursday night, Taliban declared that they captured Herat and Qala-e-Naw cities in western part of the country while unconfirmed reports said western city of Firoz Koah also has fallen to the Taliban.
The Afghan government has not confirmed the claim by the Taliban so far.
Fighting has intensified since May in Afghanistan and Taliban militants have recently been mounting pressure on major cities.
The US Department of State said on Thursday that the Pentagon would deploy additional troops to Kabul airport to support embassy staff drawdown as the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate.
A day earlier, the US Embassy in Kabul urged Americans to leave Afghanistan immediately as the security situation in the country continues to deteriorate.
“The US Embassy urges US citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately using available commercial flight options,” the embassy said in a statement.
“Given the security conditions and reduced staffing, the Embassy’s ability to assist U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited even within Kabul,” it added.
The security alert came days after a similar notice issued by the embassy on Saturday. It also came as Taliban militants captured Ghazni city, the capital of eastern Ghazni province earlier in the day, bringing the number of provincial capitals captured by the insurgent group to 10 in less than a week.
The security situation in the war-torn country has been deteriorating since the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops starting on May 1. Many Afghan cities and about half of the country’s 34 provinces in recent weeks have seen heavy battles and street fighting between Afghan forces and Taliban militants.
President Joe Biden ordered the US military to end its mission in Afghanistan by the end of this month. The US Central Command said over 95 per cent of the drawdown had been completed.
Biden said on Tuesday that the United States would continue to provide air support and military equipment to Afghanistan while noting Afghan forces must “fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”
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