Taliban fighters have surrounded the city of Ghazni in central Afghanistan, taking over civilians’ homes to fight security forces, officials said on Monday, the latest urban centre under threat from the insurgents.
The offensive was the latest on a provincial capital as the Taliban make a fresh push to surround cities and gain territory, emboldened by the departure of foreign forces.
“The situation in Ghazni city is very critical…the Taliban use civilian houses as hideouts and fire upon the ANDSF (Afghan security forces), this makes the situation very difficult for the ANDSF to operate against the Taliban,” said Hassan Rezayi, a member of Ghazni’s provincial council.
Violence has surged in the country since US President Joe Biden announced in April that American troops would withdraw by September 11, ending 20 years in Afghanistan.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the government have nominally been continuing in Qatar’s capital but officials say they are making little progress.
Locals said clashes between the two sides are also continuing in the southern province of Kandahar where the Taliban traditionally have had a strong presence and where special forces had been sent to defend the province.
Ghazni is on the main road between Kabul and Kandahar province.
“Since the past four days, armed Taliban are attacking… Kandahar city from the western direction,” said Hamidzai Lalay, a former Member of Parliament who is fighting with armed men against the Taliban in Kandahar.“Afghan security forces, including special forces, are fighting the Taliban and trying to push them back.”
Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the ministry of defence said the situation in Kandahar was “completely under control of ANDSF” which had carried out air and ground operations in recent days.
In central Bamyan province — usually comparatively free from conflict or Taliban presence — the Taliban took over Kuhmard district after security forces retreated, according to Humayoon Elkhani, the spokesperson for Bamyan province police.
So far, the Taliban has not been able to hold on to provincial capitals but they have put pressure on Afghan security forces to respond to offensives around the country.
On Sunday, security forces, with the help of air strikes, repelled an assault by Taliban fighters on Taluqan.
Last week, Taliban fighters entered the capital of the western province of Badghis, seizing police and security facilities.
The Taliban has the momentum right now in Afghanistan as it has gained control over more territories than ever before, the Pentagon acknowledged on Sunday, blaming the civilian leadership rather than the capabilities of the country’s military for the group’s progress.
The remarks from the Pentagon came in the backdrop of reports that the Taliban has made huge territorial gains in Afghanistan. Taliban militants are now thought to be controlling about a third of the war-torn country.
“We’re certainly watching with deep concern the deteriorating security situation and the violence, which is, of course, way too high, and the advances and the momentum that the Taliban seems to have right now,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told Fox News. “I mean we’re not unmindful of that. We’re watching it and monitoring it, which is why we are, again, working with our Afghan partners to encourage them to use the capacity and the capability that we know they have. We know that they know how to defend their country. This is a time for them to step up and to do exactly that,” he said.
The Taliban has the momentum right now in Afghanistan as it has gained control over more territories than ever, he said.
The US has spent almost two decades training up the Afghan military and the police. It has spent over $88 billion on training them up.