Taliban fighters seized control of the capital of Nimruz province in southwestern Afghanistan on Friday, the first provincial capital to be overrun by the militants since the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from the country, in line with the Trump administration’s deal with the fundamentalist Islamic extremist group.
Kabul is bracing itself for a siege as the Islamist insurgents try to choke the government into submission, after Dawa Khan Meenapal, the head of the government’s media office, was gunned down by the Taliban in Kabul.
“People and the security forces lost their morale,” said Gul Ahmad Noorzad, a parliament member who said Afghan government forces largely fled the city, Zaranj, allowing the Taliban to move in without a fight.
“The Afghan forces simply took off their uniforms and crossed into Iran,” said Noorzad, along with many civilians and government officials.
Rohullah Gul Khairzad, the province’s deputy governor, confirmed that the city had fallen to the Taliban.
The fall of a provincial capital to the Taliban marks a significant escalation of the group’s offensive. Previously, fighting was largely confined to the country’s rural areas, but Taliban fighters have also begun increasing pressure on some of the country’s largest cities.
The Taliban murdered Meenapal, who headed Afghanistan’s government media & information office, as he was traveling in Kabul.
The shooting is part of an assassination wave launched by the Taliban, targeting government officials in the wake of America’s decision to end its involvement in the “forever war.”
The Taliban on Twitter called the killing of Meenapal, who had earlier served as a spokesperson for Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, a “special attack of the Mujahedeen.”
Ross Wilson, US Charge d’Affaires, is “saddened and disgusted” by the targeted killing of Meenapal, whom he called a friend and colleague, whose career was focused on providing truthful information to all Afghans about Afghanistan, according to his tweet.
He called the murder “an affront to Afghans’ human rights and freedom of speech.”
The United States and its allies intervened in Afghanistan in 2001 because the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, would not hand over Osama bin Laden to face justice for the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaeda was a state within the state of Afghanistan, with its own license plates and airport entrances, as well as control of numerous camps and training bases.
Under the so-called peace agreement signed with the Taliban by the Trump administration (but not by the government in Kabul), the Taliban is supposed to guarantee that the territory it controls is not used for international terrorism against the U.S. and its allies. To do so, presumably the Taliban would shut down the al-Qaeda infrastructure in their territory.
“I was thinking that the regime has changed. Everywhere I saw the white Taliban flag and armed fighters. I asked my husband, has the government collapsed and we weren’t told?” says Habiba, a mother of four who witnessed signs of Taliban aggression as the country grew paralyzed in fear while the US military moved out of the country following Trump’s deal.
Former President Donald Trump in April praised withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, while knocking his successor’s timeline for doing so.
The US military mission in Afghanistan will end on August 31, according to President Joe Biden, as Afghan commandos battled the Taliban for control of a provincial capital in the most brazen assault by the militants since Washington stepped up its troop withdrawal.
Nearly 20 years after it invaded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the US military has “achieved” its goals in the country, killing Osama bin Laden, degrading Al-Qaeda and preventing more attacks on the United States, Biden said in a White House speech.
“We are ending America’s longest war,” he said.
“The status quo is not an option,” Biden said of staying in the country. “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan.”
“The United States cannot afford to remain tethered to policies created to respond to a world as it was 20 years ago,” he said. “We need to meet the threats where they are today.”
Though the former President offered his support of President Joe Biden’s plans to bring home American troops, he urged his successor to draw an end to America’s longest war well before the September 11 deadline that Biden set last week. Trump said that while leaving Afghanistan is “a wonderful and positive thing to do,” he had set a May 1 withdrawal deadline and added that “we should keep as close to that schedule as possible.”
“I wish Joe Biden wouldn’t use September 11 as the date to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan, for two reasons. First, we can and should get out earlier. Nineteen years is enough, in fact, far too much and way too long,” Trump said, adding: “September 11 represents a very sad event and period for our Country and should remain a day of reflection and remembrance honoring those great souls we lost.”
Trump is the latest former commander in chief to weigh in on Biden’s plan, with both former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama having spoken to Biden ahead of his announcement last week. Obama praised Biden’s decision to end the nearly 20-year war, which has spanned all four administrations.