Kabul, Afghanistan (AFP) – Taliban insurgents captured the city of Ghazni on Thursday, making it the ninth provincial capital they have taken over in a week, as US intelligence predicted that the Afghan capital, Kabul, which is only 150 kilometres northeast, could fall to the insurgents within 90 days.
With the rapidity with which the Taliban is advancing, there has been significant condemnation of US Vice President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US forces and leave the Afghan government to fight on its own.
The Taliban control approximately two-thirds of Afghanistan, with the last of the international forces, led by the United States, expected to depart by the end of this month.
Their guerrilla army has waged war on multiple fronts, resulting in thousands of families fleeing the provinces in the hope of finding safety in Kabul and other cities, according to the United Nations.
The Taliban have taken control of Ghazni, which is located on the highway connecting Kabul and Kandahar’s second city, following hard fighting, according to a senior security officer. The Taliban have also taken control of all of the city’s government agency heads, the person said.
Officials who declined to be identified reported that all local government officials, including the provincial governor, had been evacuated to Kabul.
Fighting has also been intense in Kandahar, a city in Afghanistan’s southern province of Khost.
A doctor confirmed late on Wednesday that the city hospital had received a large number of deaths of members of the military forces as well as several injured Taliban.
The Taliban claimed to have taken control of the provincial prison in Kandahar.
According to an aid worker in Kandahar, the fighting did not cease until 4 a.m., and then it resumed shortly after the first prayers of the new day.
The Taliban also claimed to have taken control of airports outside the cities of Kunduz and Sheberghan in the north and Farah in the west, making it even more difficult to supply the country’s beleaguered government forces with supplies.
They claimed to have taken control of the provincial headquarters in Lashkar Gah, the beleaguered capital of the southern province of Helmand, which has been a hotspot of insurgent activity for some time.
Officials from the government in question were not immediately available for comment. Fighting had also erupted in the northeastern province of Badghis, according to the governor of the province.
Despite the fact that the Taliban have long held sway in Kandahar and other southern and eastern regions bordering Pakistan, they have made their most significant inroads in the country’s northern provinces in recent weeks.
Even while the Taliban governed the country, they did not have complete control over the northern region. Unlike in the past, they look determined to complete a complete takeover before turning their focus to Kabul.
Government forces have pulled back from difficult-to-defend rural territories in order to concentrate on retaining control of major population centres.
President Ashraf Ghani rushed to Mazar-i-Sharif in a desperate attempt to halt the Taliban’s march.
He sought to gather old warlords he had previously tried to push aside, but who were now needed to help defend the northern city, which was under attack from the Taliban.
Gains in a short period of time
Following their recent quick gains, a senior US defence official said on Wednesday that the Taliban may isolate Kabul in 30 days and possibly take it over within 90 days, citing US intelligence sources.
Reuters spoke to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified. He said that the Afghan security forces might reverse the momentum by putting up greater opposition.
According to Biden, he does not regret his choice to withdraw from Afghanistan and he has pushed Afghan authorities to fight for their country.
Civilians escaping violence clogged all of Kabul’s entry points, according to a Western security source, who added that there was a possibility that Taliban fighters were among those seeking refuge. Kabul is located on a plain surrounded by mountains and is the capital of Afghanistan.
Suicide bombers infiltrating the diplomatic quarters to intimidate, attack, and guarantee that everyone departs at the earliest chance is a major concern, according to the official.
The Taliban, who ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when they were ousted for harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks, is attempting to overthrow the United States-backed government and reimpose strict Islamic law in their homeland.
Afghanistan’s younger generation, which has grown up since 2001, is concerned that the gains made in areas like women’s rights and media freedom will be undone.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed in the previous month, according to the United Nations, and the International Committee of the Red Cross reports that 4,042 wounded persons have been treated at 15 medical institutions since August 1, according to the organisation.
Afghanistan’s Taliban has denied that it has targeted or killed civilians and has called for an independent probe.