The Russian Kalashnikov AK-47 and its derivatives have long been the assault rifle of choice for militant groups because of their rugged design, but some Taliban fighters are trading them in for captured U.S. guns as Afghanistan's government collapses. Video and pictures published by the Taliban on Twitter and elsewhere show fighters carrying M4 carbines and M16 rifles discarded by Afghan army units. Other images show Taliban forces capturing abandoned government vehicles. The U.S. guns are more accurate and have greater range than the their AK-47s, but on their own may not deliver much added capability on the battlefield. "Some of the hardware might be useful to have if looking to intimidate rival warlords, but that's about it," said Grant Newsham, a retired United States Marine Corps colonel. "They’ve done rather well with what they already had." Still, the image of U.S.-made weapons in the hands of the Taliban as it sweeps aside the Afghan National Army - funded with billions of dollars from the U.S. government over the past two decades - is a propaganda coup for the militants. Many of the AK-47s in Afghanistan are copies, but some were left over from the 10-year Soviet occupation that ended in 1989. First manufactured just after the end of World War Two, based on a German design, the assault rifle has since become common around the world in the arsenals of governments and insurgent groups. The American weapons could be in service with the Taliban for years because of plentiful ammunition supplies. The 5.56mm round it fires is available to civilian gun owners in the United States. "The Russians crank out millions of rounds of AR 5.56 NATO each year for the U.S. market under the brand names of Tula, Wolf, and Red Army just to name a few," said another retired U.S. Marines officer, who asked not to be identified because his current employer does not allow him to talk to the media. "I suspect the Taliban's allies will have no trouble supplying parts for just about any infantry system," he added.
The Taliban Tuesday declared a general amnesty for all government officials and urged them to return to work, two days after taking power following a lightning sweep through the country. "A general amnesty has been declared for all... so you should start your routine life with full confidence," said a statement from the Taliban.
A decade after returning from Afghanistan, Marc Silvestri was convinced it was time for his comrades to come home too. But watching the chaotic pullout unfold in real time has stunned the army veteran. "It's been a tough couple days," the 43-year-old head of veterans services in Revere, Massachusetts told AFP. "I was in favor of the withdrawal, I thought it was time. Twenty-plus years, billions of dollars spent, I never expected the speed and the brazenness of the Taliban would be what it is," he said. "I never expected that the training and money we put into the Afghan army, that they would just lay down their weapons and turn the country over. That's been shocking to me." For US veterans of the 20-year war, the lightning Taliban takeover has variously brought shock, anger, resignation and worry, both for their Afghan allies left behind and compatriots at home reeling from the calamitous end to the US campaign. In just days, the Afghan military and government disintegrated. On Sunday, Kabul fell without a fight as the Taliban entered the city and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. The news spurred desperate scenes, as Afghans converged on the airport in a bid to escape and foreign governments scrambled to evacuate personnel. For veteran Chad Fross, the withdrawal of US troops "was always going to be a mess" regardless of who was in charge, because of a failure to fully understand Afghanistan. "A lot of people are going to be asking, 'Why? It was pointless for me to be there. To watch friends die or lose body parts or lose their minds,'" said Fross. "But at the same time, I have to wonder how much more pointless it would be to stay the course when it would be the same outcome 20 years from now." - 'Leaving them in the lurch' - The fate of women is a painful point of the Taliban takeover for Fross and others. During their brutal 1996-2001 regime, the Islamist militants sharply curtailed women's liberty, keeping them behind closed doors and forbidding education. But the US invasion of 2001 was meant to change that -- and, in urban areas especially, for many women it did. All those hard-won gains are set to be eroded with the Taliban's return to power, however. "These kind of ideals that we thought we were going over there to secure, these are the things that I think bother a lot of people," Fross said. "It bothers me too." Democratic President Joe Biden has stuck by his decision to push ahead with the withdrawal, even as he acknowledged the scenes were "gut-wrenching." He also pledged that "thousands" of US citizens and Afghans who had worked with American forces and fear Taliban reprisals are to be evacuated. It is the promise that is perhaps under the greatest scrutiny in the United States. For many veterans, the idea of leaving Afghans who worked side by side with them to contend with the "very real" fear of Taliban revenge is unconscionable. "They helped us and we're leaving them in the lurch. I just think that's wrong," Fross said, echoing sentiments of other veterans AFP spoke to. The non-partisan Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, dedicated to post-9/11 veterans, in a statement Monday called on US authorities to "waste no additional time" in bringing Afghans who worked with Americans to the United States. "We must keep our promises to those who have sacrificed so much on our behalf," Tom Porter, IAVA's Executive VP for Government Affairs said in the statement. - All for nothing? - "I'm hearing so much anger," Porter told AFP, adding it was not because of the withdrawal, but due to the "haphazard and chaotic way that we're taking them out right now." He pointed to the infamous images of the United States leaving Saigon that have since colored the US legacy in Vietnam, now circulating again as social media users draw parallels with the exit from Afghanistan. Silvestri said one veteran of the Vietnam conflict reached out to him as the collapse unfolded, saying "I never thought I would see it again... it brings me right back to when I watched Saigon fall." The Massachusetts native said he's spoken to a number of vets and their families who are questioning now if their sacrifices were worthwhile. "I think the best thing any of us can do at this time is listen," he told AFP, echoing the many messages from organizations in recent days with reminders of support services available for veterans. He wants families to know "their children did not die for a lost cause." "If it comes down to anything they were fighting for us... some were not able to come home and that made it so we could."
Scores of Afghans ran alongside a US military plane as it taxied on a runway at Kabul’s airport yesterday and several clung to the side in an apparent attempt to flee the Taliban-controlled capital, a video posted on social media showed. The footage shared by Afghanistan’s largest private broadcaster, Tolo news, highlighted the chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport after Taliban fighters entered Kabul following the withdrawal of foreign forces. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the footage or reports that some people were killed falling from aircraft. At least five people were killed as the chaos mounted at the airport, according to witnesses, though one person waiting for a flight told Reuters it was unclear whether those killed had been shot or trampled in a stampede. US troops fired warning shots to stop people getting on flights taking out diplomats and embassy employees and two gunmen were also shot at the airport, US officials told Reuters. The flights were later halted because of the chaos, but there was no immediate comment on the deaths. Videos and photos posted on social media showed hundreds of civilians invading the airport’s runway, jostling to climb stairs onto overhead gangways and sitting on the top of passenger jets in the hope of getting a flight out. “This is our airport but we are seeing diplomats being evacuated while we wait in complete uncertainty,” said Rakhshanda Jilali, an Afghan human rights activist who was trying to get to Pakistan, told Reuters in a message from the airport. A US State Department spokesperson said all embassy personnel, including Ambassador Ross Wilson, had been transferred to the airport to await evacuation. One video showed a military helicopter flying low to pave a path for a plane trying to take off through crowds of people. Local news agency Asvaka reported that some people who had clung to the outside of a plane plunged to their deaths after it took off. Reuters could not verify the report or footage shared by the agency. One witness said he had seen five bodies piled up in a vehicle. A video posted on social media showed three bodies on the ground near what appeared to be an airport side entrance. Reuters could not verify the footage.
*US draws flak from opponents and allies for messy pullout Thousands of civilians desperate to flee Afghanistan thronged Kabul airport on Monday after the Taliban seized the capital, prompting the United States to suspend evacuations as it came under mounting criticism at home and abroad over its pullout. Crowds converged on the airport seeking to escape, including some clinging to a US military transport plane as it taxied on the runway. US troops fired in the air to deter people trying to force their way on to a military flight evacuating US diplomats and embassy staff, a US official said. Five people were reported killed in chaos at the airport. A witness said it was unclear if they had been shot or killed in a stampede. A US official said two gunmen had been killed by US forces there. The Taliban's rapid conquest of Kabul follows US President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw US forces after 20 years of war that cost billions of dollars. The speed at which Afghan cities fell in just days and fear of a Taliban crackdown on freedom of speech and women's rights have sparked criticism. Biden, who said Afghan forces had to fight back against the Islamist Taliban, was due to speak on Afghanistan late yesterday evening after returning from the presidential retreat at Camp David. He is facing a barrage of criticism from opponents and allies, former government officials and even his own diplomats over his handling of the US exit, pulling out troops and then sending back thousands to help with the evacuation. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled on Sunday as the Islamist militants entered Kabul virtually unopposed, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed. The United States and other foreign powers have rushed to fly out diplomatic and other staff, but the US temporarily halted all evacuation flights to clear people from the airfield. Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said US forces were working with Turkish and other international troops to clear Kabul airport to allow international evacuation flights to resume. He said several hundred people had been flown out so far. Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson for the Taliban, said in a message on Twitter that its fighters were under strict orders not to harm anyone. "Life, property and honour of no one shall be harmed but must be protected by the mujahideen," he said. Mohammad Naeem, spokesman for the Taliban's political office, told Al Jazeera TV the form of Afghanistan's new government would be made clear soon. Hekmatyar, Karzai to meet Taliban Islamic Party leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said he is heading to Doha today to meet with the Taliban delegation, accompanied by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, the Al Jazeera news channel reported on Monday.
US troops fired shots into the air and all commercial flights were cancelled at Kabul airport Monday as thousands of Afghans crowded onto the tarmac in the hope of catching any flight out after the weekend Taliban takeover. Dramatic footage posted on social media showed a scene of chaos on the runway, with civilians frantically clambering up an already overcrowded and buckling set of airstairs. It was a desperate bid to board a parked passenger plane and escape the city a day after the government's collapse. As a crowd of hundreds watched on, those who successfully climbed the stairs helped others up, while some hung from the stair railings by their hands. Panicked families trying to flee the capital carried overpacked luggage, with frightened children in tow. The situation caused such a commotion that US troops fired into the air to restore order and all commercial flights were cancelled. "I feel very scared here. They are firing lots of shots into the air," the witness said, asking not to be named in case it jeopardised his chances of leaving. The US State Department said American troops had secured the perimeter of the airport as they evacuate embassy employees and thousands of Afghans who worked for Washington's interests since they toppled the Taliban in the wake of the September 11 attacks. - 'We are afraid' - The US embassy in Kabul tweeted to tell American nationals and Afghans to "not travel to the airport". But thousand more Afghans -- even some with no links to the US-led coalition -- showed up in the hope of getting out, even without tickets or visas for foreign destinations. The bedlam at the airport came just hours after Taliban leaders ordered their fighters into Kabul to maintain order as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. "We are afraid to live in this city and we are trying to flee Kabul," said a 25-year old man who also asked to be identified only as Ahmed. Many of the arrivals were fuelled by rumours, or fake news spread on social media. "I read on Facebook that Canada is accepting asylum from Afghanistan," said Ahmed. "Since I served in the army... there is danger. The Taliban would definitely target me." The US said it had evacuated its entire embassy staff to the airport, but they were being kept separate from those without permission to travel. Other videos posted on social media also showed desperate scenes overnight of people fighting to cram into the back of a cargo plane. Outside of the airport, an uneasy calm held over Kabul as armed Taliban insurgents patrolled the streets and set up checkpoints. In a message posted to social media, Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar called on his fighters to remain disciplined after taking control of the city. "Now it's time to test and prove, now we have to show that we can serve our nation and ensure security and comfort of life," he said. The scenes at the airport were reminiscent of the chaos that enveloped Washington's earlier bungled escape from Vietnam in 1975, even as Washington swatted away the comparison. "This is not Saigon," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a broadcaster on Sunday.
* Militants rule out a transitional government Taliban insurgents entered Kabul on Sunday and President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed, bringing the Islamist militants close to taking over the country two decades after they were overthrown by a US-led invasion. As night fell, local television 1TV reported that multiple explosions were heard in the city, which had been largely quiet earlier in the day. It said gunfire could be heard near the airport, where foreign diplomats, officials and other Afghans fled seeking to leave the country. Aid group Emergency said 80 wounded people had been brought to its hospital in Kabul. It was not yet clear how exactly power would be transferred following the Taliban's lightning sweep in recent weeks across Afghanistan. Their advance accelerated as US and other foreign troops withdrew in line with President Joe Biden's desire to end America's longest war, launched after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Insurgents entered the presidential palace and took control of it, two senior Taliban commanders in Kabul said. Al Jazeera television later showed footage of what it said were Taliban commanders in the palace with dozens of armed fighters. The Taliban also said they had taken control of most of the districts around the outskirts of the capital. Some local social media users branded Ghani a "coward" for leaving them in chaos. American diplomats were flown from their embassy by helicopter to the airport as Afghan forces ,trained for years and equipped by the United States and others for billions of dollars, melted away. The US Embassy said in a security alert that "the security situation in Kabul is changing quickly" including at the airport, adding that there were reports the airport had come under fire. Hundreds of Afghans, some of them government ministers and government employees and also other civilians including many women and children, crowded in the terminal at Kabul airport desperately waiting for flights out. Taliban fighers reached Kabul "from all sides", the senior Interior Ministry official told Reuters and there were some reports of sporadic gunfire around the city. During Sunday, the government's acting interior minister, Abdul Sattar Mirzakawal, said power would be handed over to a transitional administration. He tweeted: "There won't be an attack on the city, it is agreed that there will be a peaceful handover". However, two Taliban officials told Reuters there would be no transitional government. The Taliban said earlier it was waiting for the government to surrender peacefully. Many of Kabul's streets were choked by cars and people either trying to rush home or reach the airport, residents said. US officials said diplomats were being ferried by helicopters to the airport from its embassy in the fortified Wazir Akbar Khan district. A Nato official said several European Union staff had moved to a safer location in Kabul. US troops were still arriving at the airport, amid concern heavily armed Afghan security contractors could "mutiny" because they have not been assured Washington is committed to evacuating them, a person familiar with the issue said. European nations, including France, Germany and the Netherlands, also said they were moving their diplomats to the airport and working to get citizens as well as some Afghan employees out of the country. Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he had discussed the rapidly evolving situation with Britain, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands. A Nato official said the alliance was helping secure the airport and that a political solution was "now more urgent than ever". Russia said it saw no need to evacuate its embassy for the time being. Turkey said its embassy would continue operations. The insurgents also captured the eastern city of Jalalabad, without a fight, giving them control of one of the main highways into landlocked Afghanistan. They also took over the nearby Torkham border post with Pakistan, leaving Kabul airport the only way out of Afghanistan still in government hands.
Taliban fighters were ordered Sunday to wait at the gates of Kabul and not enter the city, an insurgent spokesman said, after the complete collapse of the country's security forces. "The Islamic Emirate instructs all its forces to stand at the gates of Kabul, not to try to enter the city," a spokesman for the Taliban tweeted, although some residents reported insurgents had peacefully entered some outer suburbs.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Saturday the remobilisation of the country's armed forces was a "top priority", as Taliban fighters inched closer to the capital after routing the country's defences over the past week. The president gave no hint he would resign or take responsibility for the current situation, but said "consultations" were taking place to try to help end the war. "The remobilisation of our security and defence forces is our top priority, and serious steps are being taken in this regard," he said appearing sombre and sitting before an Afghan flag in a televised speech. But Ghani offered few specifics on what his administration was planning as the government's control over Afghanistan has all but collapsed in recent days. The announcement came as US Marines returned to oversee emergency evacuations from Afghanistan and foreign embassies scrambled to pull out their staff as security deteriorated. With the country's second and third-largest cities having fallen into Taliban hands, Kabul has effectively become the besieged last stand for government forces who have offered little or no resistance elsewhere. - Taliban advance - Insurgent fighters are now camped just 50 kilometres (30 miles) away, leaving the United States and other countries scrambling to airlift their nationals out of Kabul ahead of a feared all-out assault. Heaving fighting was also reported around Mazar-i-Sharif, an isolated holdout in the north where warlord and former vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum had gathered his virulently anti-Taliban militia. The only other cities of any significance not to be taken yet were Jalalabad, Gardez, and Khost -- Pashtun-dominated and unlikely to offer much resistance now. In Kabul, US embassy staff were ordered to begin shredding and burning sensitive material, as the first American troops from a planned 3,000-strong re-deployment started arriving to secure the airport and oversee evacuations. A host of European countries -- including Britain, Germany, Denmark and Spain -- all announced the withdrawal of personnel from their respective embassies on Friday. For Kabul residents and the tens of thousands who have sought refuge there in recent weeks, the overwhelming mood was one of confusion and fear. Muzhda, 35, a single woman who arrived in the capital with her two sisters after fleeing nearby Parwan, said she was terrified for the future. "I am crying day and night," she told AFP "I have turned down marriage proposals in the past... If the Taliban come and force me to marry, I will commit suicide." UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was "deeply disturbed" by accounts of poor treatment of women in areas seized by the Taliban, who imposed an ultra-austere brand of Islam on Afghanistan during their 1996-2001 rule. The scale and speed of the Taliban advance have shocked Afghans and the US-led alliance that poured billions into the country after toppling the insurgents in the wake of the September 11 attacks nearly 20 years ago. Days before a final US withdrawal ordered by President Joe Biden, individual Afghan soldiers, units and even whole divisions have surrendered -- handing the Taliban even more vehicles and military hardware to fuel their lightning advance. - 'No imminent threat' - Despite the frantic evacuation efforts, the Biden administration continues to insist that a complete Taliban takeover is not inevitable. "Kabul is not right now in an imminent threat environment," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday, while acknowledging that Taliban fighters were "trying to isolate" the city. The Taliban offensive has accelerated in recent days, with the capture of Herat in the north and, just hours later, the seizure of Kandahar -- the group's spiritual heartland in the south. - 'Thousands per day' - Pul-e-Alam, capital of Logar province, was the latest city to fall on Friday, putting the Taliban within striking distance of Kabul. Helicopters flitted back and forth between Kabul's airport and the sprawling US diplomatic compound in the heavily fortified Green Zone -- 46 years after choppers evacuated Americans from Saigon, signalling the end of the Vietnam War. The US-led evacuation is focused on thousands of people, including embassy employees, and Afghans and their families who fear retribution for working as interpreters or in other support roles for the United States. Pentagon spokesman Kirby said that most of the troops shepherding the evacuation would be in place by Sunday and "will be able to move thousands per day" out of Afghanistan. In his speech Saturday, Ghani said he wanted to end the fighting. "I have started extensive consultations inside the government with the elders, political leaders, representatives of people, and international partners on achieving a reasonable and certain political solution in which the peace and stability of the people of Afghanistan are envisaged," he said.
• Skin rash, two kidney disorders being studied by EMA Three new conditions reported by a small number of people after vaccination with Covid-19 shots from Pfizer and Moderna are being studied to assess if they may be possible side-effects, Europe’s drugs regulator said yesterday. Erythema multiforme, a form of allergic skin reaction; glomerulonephritis or kidney inflammation; and nephrotic syndrome, a renal disorder characterised by heavy urinary protein losses, are being studied by the safety committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), according to the regulator. Pfizer, by far the biggest supplier of Covid-19 vaccines to the European Union, and Moderna did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment. Just over 43.5 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine, Spikevax, have been administered in the European Economic Area as of July 29, the EMA said, compared to more than 330 million doses of the Pfizer shot, Comirnaty, developed with Germany’s BioNTech . Last month, the EMA found a possible link between very rare heart inflammation and the mRNA vaccines. However, the European regulator and the World Health Organisation have stressed that benefits from these vaccines outweigh any risks. The watchdog did not give details yesterday on how many cases of the new conditions were recorded, but said it had requested more data from the companies. The EMA did not recommend changes to the labelling of the vaccines. It disclosed the new assessments as part of routine updates to the safety section of all authorised vaccines’ database and added menstrual disorders as a condition it was studying for vaccines, including those from AstraZeneca and J&J , after the EMA’s update last week. Moderna’s shares, which have climbed more than 75% to Tuesday’s close since mid-July when it joined the S&P 500 index , fell about 16% to $384 yesterday. BioNTech’s US-listed shares were down 14.4% and Pfizer nearly 4%.
Taliban fighters could isolate Afghanistan’s capital in 30 days and possibly take it over in 90, a US defence official cited US intelligence as saying, as the resurgent militants made more advances across the country. The official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity yesterday, said the new assessment of how long Kabul could stand was a result of the Taliban’s rapid gains as US-led foreign forces leave. “But this is not a foregone conclusion,” the official added, saying that the Afghan security forces could reverse the momentum by putting up more resistance. The fighters now control 65% of Afghanistan and have taken or threaten to take 11 provincial capitals, a senior EU official said on Tuesday. All gateways to Kabul, which lies in a valley surrounded by mountains, were choked with civilians entering the city and fleeing violence elsewhere, a Western security source there told Reuters. This made it hard to tell whether Taliban fighters were also getting through, the source said. “The fear is of suicide bombers entering the diplomatic quarters to scare, attack and ensure everyone leaves at the earliest opportunity,” he said. Foreign countries are trying to ensure their staff leave Kabul quickly, five foreign security officials told Reuters. One said international airlines were also being asked to evacuate staff. The loss of Faizabad was the latest setback for the Afghan government, which has struggled to stem the momentum of Taliban assaults. US President Joe Biden urged Afghan leaders to fight for their homeland, saying on Tuesday he did not regret his decision to withdraw. He said Washington had spent more than $1tn over 20 years and lost thousands of US troops. The United States was providing significant air support, food, equipment and salaries to Afghan forces, he said. White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment yesterday about assessments that Kabul could soon be overtaken by the Taliban. “We are closely watching the deteriorating security conditions in parts of the country, but no particular outcome, in our view, is inevitable,” she said. The United States will complete the withdrawal of its forces this month in exchange for Taliban promises to prevent Afghanistan being used for international terrorism. Psaki said the timeline holds and reiterated the administration’s view that Afghan forces have the US support they need to fight back. The Afghans “need to determine ... if they have the political will to fight back and if they have the ability to unite as leaders to fight back,” she said. The Taliban promised not to attack foreign forces as they withdraw but did not agree to a ceasefire with the government. A Taliban commitment to talk peace with the government side has come to nothing.
The Taliban were in control of six Afghan provincial capitals on Tuesday after a blitz across the north that forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes for the relative safety of Kabul and other centres. The insurgents now have their eyes on Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in the north, whose fall would signal the total collapse of government control in a region that has traditionally been anti-Taliban. Government forces are also battling the hardline Islamists in Kandahar and Helmand, the southern Pashto-speaking provinces from where the Taliban draw their strength. The United States -- due to complete a troop withdrawal at the end of the month and end its longest war -- has all but left the battlefield. However, its special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been sent to Qatar to try and convince the Taliban to accept a ceasefire. Khalilzad "will press the Taliban to stop their military offensive", the State Department said, and "help formulate a joint international response to the rapidly deteriorating situation". Officials from Afghanistan's most vested neighbours -- Pakistan, China and Iran -- would also attend meetings there. But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it was down to the Afghan government and its forces to turn the tide, saying there was "not much" the United States could do to help. Michael Kugelman, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, doubted Washington had the means to anything. "I fear that the Taliban (are) just so strong and the Afghan military is so beleaguered right now, it's going to be hard to find some type of momentum-changer from the US," he said. - Brutal treatment - The Taliban have appeared largely indifferent to peace overtures, and seem intent on a military victory to crown a return to power after their ouster 20 years ago in the wake of the September 11 attacks. As fighting raged, tens of thousands of people were on the move inside the country, with families fleeing newly captured Taliban cities with tales of brutal treatment at the hands of the insurgents. "The Taliban are beating and looting," said Rahima, now camped out with hundreds of families at a park in the capital Kabul after fleeing Sheberghan province. "If there is a young girl or a widow in a family, they forcibly take them. We fled to protect our honour." "We are so exhausted," added Farid, an evacuee from Kunduz who did not want to be further identified. In the northern city of Kunduz that was captured by the Taliban over the weekend, residents said shops had begun to reopen in the centre as insurgents focused their attention on government forces who had retreated to the airport. "People are opening their shops and businesses, but you can still see fear in their eyes," said shopkeeper Habibullah. Another resident, living close to the airport, said there has been heavy fighting for days. "The Taliban are hiding in people's houses in the area and government forces are bombing them," said Haseeb, who only gave his first name. "From the window of my house, I can see women, children and men all leaving. Some of them are barefoot... some are pulling crying children with them." - 'Great success' - The Taliban earned notoriety during their first stint in power from 1996-2001 for introducing a harsh interpretation of Islamic rule that barred girls from education and women from work. Crimes were punished by public floggings or executions, while a host of activities -- from playing music to non-religious TV -- were also banned. They have given little indication of how they would rule if they take power again, apart from to say it would be according to the Koran, and opponents fear losing hard-won rights. Following the capture of Aibak on Monday, the insurgents have now overrun five provincial capitals in the north, sparking fears the government has lost its grip on the region. They have also taken Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province, in the southwest. On Monday, the Taliban said they were moving in on Mazar-i-Sharif -- the largest city in the north and a linchpin for the government's control of the region -- after capturing Sheberghan to its west, and Kunduz and Taloqan to its east. But Fawad Aman, spokesman for the ministry of defence, said Afghan forces had the upper hand there. "Great success," he tweeted.
The Taliban tightened the noose around northern Afghanistan yesterday, capturing three more provincial capitals as they take their fight to the cities after seizing much of the countryside in recent months. The insurgents have snatched up five provincial capitals in Afghanistan since Friday in a lightning offensive that appears to have overwhelmed government forces. Kunduz, Sar-e-Pul and Taloqan in the north fell within hours of each other yesterday, lawmakers, security sources and residents in the cities confirmed. In Kunduz, one resident described the city as being enveloped in “total chaos”. “After some fierce fighting, the mujahideen, with the grace of God, captured the capital of Kunduz,” the Taliban said in a statement. “The mujahideen also captured Sar-e-Pul city, the government buildings and all the installations there.” The insurgents said on Twitter that they had also taken Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province. Parwina Azimi, a women’s rights activist in Sar-e-Pul, told AFP by phone that government officials and the remaining forces had retreated to an army barracks about three kilometres from the city. The Taliban had the compound “surrounded”, said Mohamed Hussein Mujahidzada, a member of the provincial council. Taloqan was the next to go, with resident Zabihullah Hamidi telling AFP by phone that he saw security forces and officials leave the city in a convoy of vehicles. “We retreated from the city this afternoon, after the government failed to send help,” a security source told AFP. “The city is unfortunately fully in Taliban hands.” Kunduz is the most significant Taliban gain since the insurgents launched an offensive in May as foreign forces began the final stages of their withdrawal. It has been a perennial target for the Taliban, who briefly overran the city in 2015 and again in 2016 but never managed to hold it for long. The ministry of defence said government forces were fighting to retake key installations. “The commando forces have launched a clearing operation. Some areas, including the national radio and TV buildings, have been cleared of the terrorist Taliban,” it said. Spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai said later that reinforcements including special forces had been deployed to Sar-e-Pul and Sheberghan.
The Taliban seized the stronghold of a notorious Afghan warlord yesterday, officials said, the second provincial capital to fall to the insurgents in under 24 hours. The deputy governor of Jawzjan province told AFP he was with government forces who had abandoned Sheberghan city and retreated to the airport on its outskirts, where they were preparing to defend themselves. The city 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 yesterday 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 his 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 final withdrawal of foreign troops. Afghan government forces largely abandoned the countryside to the insurgents, but are 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 a brazen assassination attempt involving a car bomb and Taliban hit squad. Qader Malia, deputy governor of Jawzjan province, told AFP Sheberghan had “unfortunately fallen”, but interior ministry spokesman Marwais Stanikzai insisted the insurgents held only parts of the city. “The security forces, backed by reinforcements and the uprising forces, will once again clear the city from the terrorists,” he said in a video message to media. That has been a familiar response to most Taliban gains of recent weeks, although government forces have so far 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 and we do not dare leave our homes,” he said, 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. 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 — along with accusations his forces massacred thousands of insurgent prisoners of war. Any retreat of his fighters would dent the government’s recent hopes that militia groups could help bolster the country’s overstretched military. In Zaranj, social media posts suggested the Taliban were welcomed by some residents of the desert city, which has long had a reputation for lawlessness. They 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 along with common criminals. Videos on Twitter showed mobs looting government offices, stealing desks, office chairs, cabinets, and televisions. Fresh social media video emerged yesterday of similar scenes purporting to come from Sheberghan. The veracity of the clips could not immediately be confirmed. “The Afghan security forces lost their morale due to intense propaganda by the Taliban,” a senior official from the city, who asked not to be named, told AFP. “Most of the security forces put their weapons on the ground, took off their uniforms, and left their units,” he said. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, fighting was raging in Herat, near the western border with Iran, and Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in the south. From Kunduz, activist Rasikh Maroof told AFP by phone yesterday that fighting was heard throughout the night on the outskirts of several parts of the city, with the Taliban apparently unable to make significant inroads. Despite the deteriorating situation, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday that President Joe Biden still believed it was right to pull US troops out after 20 years of war.
At least eight people, including a woman, were killed and more than 20 others were wounded in a car bomb blast near the residence of Acting Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi on Tuesday night, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday. The attack took place at around 8 pm local time in Shirpoor area in Kabul's District 10 where most of the high-ranking government officials house are located, (TOLOnews) reported. First, a car bomb was donated close to the house of Mohammadi and then four gunmen entered a nearby house and fought against security guards. The security forces arrived at the scene shortly after the attack and ambulances were also seen leaving the area within an hour of the start of the incident. Three attackers entered the house of Mohammad Azim Mohseni, an MP from Baghlan shortly after the blast, sources said. Mohseni confirmed that he was not at home when the attack happened. "There were four to seven attackers," security sources said. A security source said that a security guard of Mohammadis house is among those killed, and another was wounded. No group, including the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on Tuesday called for an immediate end to fighting in urban areas in Afghanistan, as the Taliban continues a ground assault in the south of the country. "The Mission said that the Taliban ground offensive and Afghan National Army airstrikes are causing the most harm, and added it is deeply concerned about indiscriminate shooting and damage to health facilities and civilian homes," said UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric. "All parties must do more to protect civilians or the impact will be catastrophic, according to the UN Mission in Afghanistan." Also on Tuesday, the UN Security Council called for those responsible for last Fridays deadly assault against the UN compound in Herat to be brought to justice. The Council issued a statement condemning in the strongest terms the "deplorable attack", which killed an Afghan security forces guard and wounded several others. "The members of the Security Council expressed their deep concern about the high levels of violence in Afghanistan following the Talibans military offensive, and called for an immediate reduction of violence," the statement said. "They also expressed deep concern about the number of reported serious human rights abuses and violations in communities affected by the ongoing armed conflict across the country." The Council underlined that deliberate attacks targeting civilians, and UN personnel and compounds, may constitute war crimes.
The Russian army announced that the troops from Russia and Uzbekistan began joint military drills on Monday near the Afghan border. Russian and Uzbek troops would take part at the Termez military site in the "Surkhandarya" region in southern Uzbekistan, and would train to carry out missions related to guarantee territorial integrity on the border with Afghanistan, the Press Service of the Central Military District of the Russian Army said in a statement carried by Russia Today (RT). Russia said that 1,800 of its soldiers would take part in the Tajik drills. Those separate drills are due to take place on Aug. 5-10 at Tajikistan's Harb-Maidon training ground located some 20 kilometers from the Afghan border. Moscow will also use 420 units of military hardware for the drills, double the quantity originally planned, it said, adding that the total forces of the three countries participating in the exercises will be more than 2,500 soldiers and about 500 pieces of weapons and equipment. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had said earlier that the three countries will train to take practical measures to destroy armed gang formations, conduct aerial reconnaissance and protect facilities.
At least three rockets struck Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan overnight, an official told AFP on Sunday, as the Taliban pressed on with their sweeping offensive across the country. "Last night three rockets were fired at the airport and two of them hit the runway... Due to this all flights from the airport have been cancelled," airport chief Massoud Pashtun told AFP. Pashtun said work to repair the runway was underway and expected the airport to be operational later on Sunday. An official at the civil aviation authority in Kabul confirmed the rocket attack. Kandahar's air base is vital to providing the logistics and air support needed to keep the militants from overrunning Afghanistan's second-biggest city. The attack on the airport came as the Taliban inched closer to overrunning two other provincial capitals -- Herat in the west and Lashkar Gah in the south. The Taliban's significant territorial gains during the final stages of the US military withdrawal have largely been in sparsely populated rural areas. But in recent weeks they have brought increasing pressure on several provincial capitals and seized key border crossings.
An Afghan police guard was killed yesterday when a United Nations compound came under attack in Herat, officials said, as fighting raged between government forces and the Taliban on the outskirts of the western city. Violence has surged across the country since early May when the Taliban launched a sweeping offensive as the US-led foreign forces began a final withdrawal which is now almost complete. The Taliban have seized scores of districts across the country, including in Herat province, where the group has also captured two border crossings adjoining Iran and Turkmenistan. Yesterday, the Taliban clashed with government forces on the outskirts of Herat city, the provincial capital, forcing scores of families to flee, residents said, as the insurgents tightened their noose. During the fighting the UN’s main compound in Herat came under attack by rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire, a statement issued by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said. “This attack against the United Nations is deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest terms,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. “The perpetrators of this attack must be identified and brought to account.” UNAMA said the attack was carried out by “anti-government elements”. It said, however, that the area where the compound is located was the scene of heavy fighting between the Taliban and government forces. The Taliban say they will not target foreign diplomats, but have blatantly violated international protocol before. The European Union delegation to Kabul blamed the Taliban for the attack on the UN compound in Herat. “The Taliban have to account for the crime which will be considered an attack against all of us. It is contrary to all assurances given,” ambassador Andreas Von Brandt, head of the EU delegation, tweeted. For the past two days the insurgents and government forces have clashed on the outskirts of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city of 600,000 inhabitants. An AFP correspondent there said the Taliban and Afghan forces were also fighting on the road leading to the city airport yesterday, while residents reported clashes in the nearby districts of Injil and Guzara. “People there are terrified,” said Abdul Rab Ansari, who fled to the city from Guzara. “The fighting is heavy but they have not captured the district of Guzara so far,” said Mohamed Allahyar, who also sought shelter in Herat. Afghan forces and militiamen of veteran warlord and anti-Taliban commander Ismail Khan have been deployed around the city in recent days. Khan, who previously fought the Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s and then the Taliban during their hardline regime in the 1990s, has vowed to fight the insurgents again to counter their staggering advances in recent months. Fighting has also raged in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar since Thursday. In Helmand, the Taliban attacked the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah from several directions on Thursday, local police officer Daud Shah said.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani meets regional leaders for talks in Uzbekistan on Thursday as deteriorating security in his country raises fears of a new Afghan refugee crisis with neighbouring Pakistan already ruling out taking any more. Several million Afghans have been displaced within their country over years of war, 270,000 of them in fighting since January as U.S.-led foreign forces have been withdrawing, according to the U.N. refugee agency. With Taliban insurgents apparently intent on defeating Ghani's Western-backed government, Afghanistan's neighbours are on alert for refugees crossing borders as the fighting intensifies and living conditions deteriorate. "The meetings in Tashkent will focus on Afghanistan's future and involve intense diplomacy," a diplomat briefed on the matter said of the two-day gathering. Decades of war have driven Afghans out of their country, most into Pakistan to the east and Iran to the west. Pakistan is home to 1.4 million Afghan refugees while Iran hosts nearly a million, according to U.N. refugee agency data from the beginning of the year. The number of undocumented Afghans in both countries is estimated to be much higher. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, visiting Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, on Tuesday said his country, with limited resources, could not be expected to do any more. "It cannot afford to welcome more refugees if the situation within Afghanistan deteriorates again," Qureshi said. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and top government officials from countries across the region are expected at the meeting in Tashkent. Foreign ministers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation met in Dushanbe this week and called for an end to violence against Afghan civilians and urged the government to strengthen its position for the sake of stability. TENSE BORDERS Last week, Tajikistan said it took in more than 1,000 civilians fleeing violence in northern Afghanistan's Badakhshan province. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon early last week though, also ordered the mobilisation of 20,000 military reservists to secure its border with Afghanistan. Rakhmon also called on his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, whose country has a sizable military presence in Tajikistan, to help stabilise the border with Afghanistan. Despite Qureshi's warning that Pakistan would take no more refugees, Pakistani officials in border areas have begun to identify sites that could be used for refugee camps. Pakistan shut its two main border crossings with Afghanistan last week after lawmakers were told by the military that more than 700,000 Afghans could enter in coming months. A humanitarian crisis could force Afghans to leave their country just as much as actual fighting. Some 18.4 million people, almost half the population, need humanitarian help, according to the United Nations, which has appealed for $1.3 billion in funding for 2021. It has only received about 23% of that. Last week, the World Health Organization warned it was struggling to get medicines and supplies into Afghanistan where facilities have come under attack and some staff have fled. It estimates that more than 3 million Afghan children are at risk of acute malnutrition. read more "Afghanistan's on the brink of another humanitarian crisis," said Babar Baloch, a spokesman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday. A failure to stem the "violence will lead to further displacement within the country, as well as to neighbouring countries and beyond", he said.