Taliban launch assault on Afghan provincial capital as US ramps up withdrawal

Herat, Afghanistan – The Taliban launched a major assault on a provincial capital in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the first since the US military began its final drawdown of troops from the country, as insurgents press on with a blistering offensive.

Fierce fighting erupted in the western city of Qala-i-Naw, the capital of Badghis, with the militants seizing police headquarters and offices of the country’s spy agency. As news of the morning assault spread, social media was flooded with videos of clashes — with some showing armed Taliban fighters on motorbikes entering the city as onlookers cheered.

Afghanistan’s Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi said government forces were in a “very sensitive military situation”, adding that “the war is raging” with the Taliban.

The onslaught came hours after Washington announced US forces had completed more than 90 percent of their withdrawal from Afghanistan, and as the Kabul government held talks with Taliban representatives in neighbouring Iran.

The militants have waged a dizzying campaign across Afghanistan since US and NATO forces announced the final withdrawal from the country in early May, seizing dozens of districts and stirring fears that the government is in crisis.

“The enemy has entered the city, all the districts have fallen,” Badghis governor Hessamuddin Shams told reporters in a text message. He attempted to calm the residents later in another video message, appearing with a rifle — with gunfire rattling in the distance. “I assure you that we will, all of us, together defend the city,” he said. Provincial council chief Abdul Aziz Bek said some security officials had surrendered to the Taliban, while council member Zia Gul Habibi said the insurgents had entered the city’s police headquarters and the local office of the country’s spy agency.

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