UN warns of ‘deadlier’ phase of Afghan war as Taliban seize their first provincial capital
The Taliban captured an Afghan provincial capital and assassinated the government’s top media officer in Kabul on Friday, dealing twin high-profile blows to the Western-backed administration. The war is entering a "deadlier and more destructive phase", warned the UN on Friday, highlighting that 1,000 civilians had been killed in the past month during the Taliban offensive.
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 government.
Fighting to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ousting by U.S.-led forces, the Taliban have intensified their campaign to defeat the U.S.-backed government as foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.
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 foreign troops withdraw.
Zaranj was the first provincial capital to fall to the group since the United States reached a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 for a U.S. troop pullout. A local source said the Taliban had seized the governor’s office, the police headquarters and an encampment near the Iranian border.
Taliban sources said the group was celebrating, and Zaranj’s fall would boost the morale of their fighters in other provinces. A Taliban commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it has strategic importance as it is on the border with Iran.
“This is the beginning and see how other provinces fall in our hands very soon,” he said.
In Kabul, Taliban attackers killed Dawa Khan Menapal, head of the Government Media and Information Centre, in the latest in a series of assassinations aimed at weakening President Ashraf Ghani’s democratically elected government.
Scores of social activists, journalists, bureaucrats, judges and public figures fighting to sustain a liberal Islamic administration have been assassinated by Taliban fighters in a bid to silence voices of dissent in the war-torn country.
Taliban is waging an assassination campaign to eliminate its critics.— Frud Bezhan فرود بيژن (@FrudBezhan) August 6, 2021
Many of the victims are civilians -- journalists, rights activists, cultural figures, and women in public roles.
Latest victim is Dawa Khan Menapal, govt's top media and information officer. pic.twitter.com/1gYY7EgaOi
An official in the federal interior ministry said “the 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, a spokesperson for the interior ministry.
Elsewhere Taliban fighters intensified clashes with Afghan forces and attacked militias allied with the government, officials said, stretching their dominance of border towns and closing in on two provincial capitals.
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.
“The Taliban launched violent attacks on the outskirts of (provincial capital) Sheberghan this week and during heavy clashes, a pro-government militia forces’ commander loyal to Dustom was killed,” said Abdul Qader Malia, the deputy governor of Jowzjan province.
Another provincial council member said nine of the 10 districts of Jowzjan were now controlled by the Taliban and the contest to control Sheberghan was underway.
UN warnings over Afghan war
The UN special envoy for Afghanistan on Friday questioned the Taliban’s commitment to a political settlement, telling the UN Security Council the war has entered a “deadlier and more destructive phase” with more than 1,000 civilians killed in the past month during a Taliban offensive.
“This is now a different kind of war, reminiscent of Syria, recently, or Sarajevo, in the not-so-distant past,” Lyons said.
“To attack urban areas is to knowingly inflict enormous harm and cause massive civilian casualties. Nonetheless, the threatening of large urban areas appears to be a strategic decision by the Taliban, who have accepted the likely carnage that will ensue,” she said.
Afghanistan’s UN Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai urged the Security Council to act to “prevent a catastrophic situation.” He told reporters after the meeting that he was confident the Afghan army could withstand the Taliban offensive and that the country was not yet in a civil war.
“We have a six months security plan to stabilise the situation. And not only that, we have seen an outpouring of support from communities and villages that were recently attacked by the Taliban ... so we have a lot of interest among the population to support the army,” he said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe