Afghanistan’s Ghani to rally forces in key northern city as Taliban advance

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani flew to the besieged northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Wednesday to rally his beleaguered forces, and Taliban fighters have taken more than a quarter of the country’s provincial capitals in less than a week. .

Ghani arrived in Mazar when the Taliban captured Faizabad overnight, making it the ninth city to be invaded since Friday.

He plans to “check the general security in the northern area,” according to a statement released by the palace.

The Afghan leader was also likely to hold talks with Mazar’s strongman, Atta Mohammad Noor, and the infamous warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum about defending the city, as the Taliban fighters slowly approached their outskirts.

The loss of Mazar would be a catastrophic blow to the Kabul government and would represent the total collapse of its control over the north, long a stronghold of anti-Taliban militias.

Hours before Ghani’s arrival, images posted on official government social media accounts showed Dostum boarding a plane in Kabul, along with a contingent of commandos, en route to Mazar.

Fighting in Afghanistan’s protracted conflict has escalated dramatically since May, when the US-led military coalition began the final stage of a withdrawal to be completed before the end of the month.

Further east of Mazar, in Badakhshan’s capital Faizabad, a local lawmaker told AFP that security forces had withdrawn after days of heavy fighting.

“The Taliban have captured the city now,” Zabihullah Attiq said.

The insurgents also confirmed in a social media post that their fighters were in control of the city.

Biden: ‘I don’t regret my decision’ to withdraw troops

But even as the Taliban defeated government forces, US President Joe Biden gave no indication of delaying the deadline for withdrawing all US troops before August 31, instead urging Afghan leaders to “fight for themselves. ” on Tuesday.

“I do not regret my decision” to withdraw US troops after two decades of war, he told reporters in Washington.

And as the fighting raged, American diplomats desperately tried to revive talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, where Washington’s special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was pressuring the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire.

Biden has emphasized that Washington will continue to support the Afghan security forces with airstrikes, food, equipment and money for wages.

“They have to want to fight. They have outnumbered the Taliban,” he said.

>> Biden says Afghans must ‘fight for themselves’ as Taliban take over most of the country

The Taliban have seemed largely indifferent to the peace proposals and appear bent on a military victory to crown the return to power after their overthrow 20 years ago in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

After conquering most of the north, the Taliban have now set their sights on the region’s largest city, Mazar-i-Sharif, long a hub for government control of the area, after capturing Sheberghan. to the west, and Kunduz and Taloqan. to its east.

Government forces are also fighting hardline Islamists in Kandahar and Helmand, the southern Pashtun-speaking provinces where the Taliban draw their strength.


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