Taliban insurgents captured an Afghan provincial capital and killed the government’s senior media officer in Kabul on Friday amid a deteriorating security situation as the US and other foreign troops withdraw.
A police spokesman in southern Nimroz province said the capital Zaranj had fallen to the hardline Islamists because of a lack of reinforcements from the Western-backed government.
Fighting to reimpose a strict Islamic regime 20 years after they were ousted from power by US-led forces, the Taliban have intensified their campaign to defeat the government.
The insurgents have taken dozens of districts and border crossings in recent months and put pressure on several provincial capitals, including Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south, as the foreign forces pull out.
In New York, UN special envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons questioned the Taliban’s commitment to a political settlement, telling the UN Security Council the war had entered a deadlier and more destructive phase “reminiscent of Syria, recently, or Sarajevo, in the not-so-distant past”.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the prospects of Afghanistan slipping into full-scale and protracted civil war “is a stark reality”.
Senior US diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis urged the Taliban to halt their offensive, pursue a political settlement and protect Afghanistan’s infrastructure and people.
Zaranj was the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since the United States reached a deal with it in February 2020 for a US troop pullout. A local source said the Taliban had seized the governor’s office, the police headquarters and an encampment near the Iranian border.
— Fawad Aman (@FawadAman2) August 7, 2021
Taliban sources said the group was celebrating and Zaranj’s fall would lift the morale of their fighters. A Taliban commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Zaranj has strategic importance as it is on the border with Iran.
In Kabul, Taliban attackers killed Dawa Khan Menapal, head of the Government Media and Information Centre, in the latest in a series of killings aimed at weakening President Ashraf Ghani’s democratically elected government.
US Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson said he was saddened and disgusted by the death of Menapal, whom he said provided truthful information to all Afghans.
We are saddened & disgusted by the Taliban’s targeted killing of Dawa Khan Meenapal, a friend and colleague, whose career was focused on providing truthful information to all Afghans about #Afghanistan. These murders are an affront to Afghans’ human rights & freedom of speech.
— Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson (@USAmbKabul) August 6, 2021
“These murders are an affront to Afghans’ human rights & freedom of speech,” he said in a Tweet.
Scores of social activists, journalists, bureaucrats, judges and public figures fighting to sustain a liberal Islamic administration have been killed by Taliban fighters in a bid to silence voices of dissent.
Read more: Is Pakistan fueling a Taliban takeover?
An official in the federal interior ministry said “savage terrorists” killed Menapal during Friday prayers.
“He (Menapal) was a young man who stood like a mountain in the face of enemy propaganda, and who was always a major supporter of the (Afghan) regime,” said Mirwais Stanikzai, an Interior Ministry spokesperson.
Elsewhere Taliban fighters stepped up clashes with Afghan forces and attacked militias allied with the government, officials said, stretching their dominance of border towns.
At least 10 Afghan soldiers and a commander of armed members belonging to the Abdul Rashid Dostum militia group in the northern province of Jowzjan were killed.
Deputy governor of Jowzjan province Abdul Qader Malia said the Taliban attacked the outskirts of provincial capital Sheberghan this week.
Reuters with additional input by GVS News Desk