Kabul, Aug 7 (EFE).- The Taliban Saturday captured the provincial capital of northern Jawzjan province, taking control of the second Afghan city in a major military boost for the Islamist insurgents in their rapid advances after foreign troops began withdrawing on May 3.
“Sheberghan, the capital city of the Jawzjan province has fallen. The city is in the hands of the militants,” Karim Jawzjani, a federal lawmaker from the region, told EFE.
He said only a military cantonment was with the government forces, while the office of the governor and provincial police headquarters had fallen under the Taliban control.
“Security forces retreated from the city around 10 pm toward the army base and left the city following a heavy fighting.”
He expressed hope that the government forces would re-organize to push the Taliban back from the capital of the ethnically Uzbek-dominated province.
Bismillah Sahel, a provincial council member, confirmed to EFE that “almost all parts of the city are in the hands of the Taliban.”
“Taliban fighters are freely roaming in the city center. Nearly all shops are closed for now due to the heavy fighting.”
Jawzjan is home to an ex-warlord, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, the first vice president from September 2014 to February 2020.
Dostum is the leader and founder of the Uzbek-dominated Junbish-e-Milli political outfit.
Dostum is in Kabul after he recently returned from Tukey. His son Yar Muhammad Dostum led the militia in their fight against the Taliban.
The Taliban announced the military breakthrough on Twitter.
“The strategic capital of Jawzjan, Sheberghan, has been liberated by the mujahideen,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted.
Mujahid said the Taliban drove the militiamen loyal to Dostum away from all the government buildings in Jawzjan.
Dostum commanded thousands of pro-government militia in Jawzjan for years in their fight against the Taliban.
The Jawzjan capital is strategically critical as it connects several neighboring provinces and borders Turkmenistan.
The fall of Jawzjan came hours after the Taliban captured Zaranj, the capital of the southern Nimroz province.
Zaranj, near the border with Iran, became the first city captured by the Taliban since the insurgents began their country-wide offensive after the definitive withdrawal of United States-led foreign forces, triggering a marked instability in Afghanistan.
The Taliban have captured more than 125 district centers, making unprecedented territorial gain in the last two decades of war after the withdrawal began.
The Taliban have called on residents of the two cities to stay home.
Mujahid said government employees and security forces needed not to fear the Taliban because the group has already issued a general amnesty for all.