Taliban control half of Afghan provinces as blitz for Kabul gains pace
Kabul, Aug 13 (EFE).- Taliban fighters have captured Kandahar and Helmand, the two largest provinces in southern Afghanistan, officials said Friday, making significant military victories in their blitzkrieg towards power in Kabul.
The rapidly advancing Islamist militia also gained control of Ghor in the west, Uruzgan in the south, and Logar in the southeast on Friday.
The latest captures came within hours from each other, signaling the staggering pace with which the insurgents are moving to take control of the war-torn country.
The insurgents command half of the rugged nation, battered by decades of the conflict, aggravated by the United States military invasion in 2001 that ousted the Taliban regime.
The Islamist militia has 17 of 34 Afghan provinces in their control as they advance rapidly after the US-led international forces began withdrawing from the country on May 1.
Taliban spokesperson Qari Yusuf Ahmadi tweeted that the militants had taken control of the Kandahar and Helmand provinces.
Ahmadi said many government soldiers surrendered to the Taliban while the rest fled from the southern regions.
The fall of Kandahar, the second-largest Afghan city in the south, is unarguably the most significant military breakthrough yet for the insurgents in their march towards the capital.
Malalai Ishaqzai, a federal lawmaker from the province, told EFE that the government forces have withdrawn from the city and the Governor House, the police headquarters, and other public institutions were in the hands of the Taliban.
She said the government had not decided about any counterattack to regain Kandahar, the historic Afghanistan capital in the past.
Khalil Ahmad Mujahid, another lawmaker from Kandahar, told EFE that some government soldiers were manning the Kandahar airport.
“The rest of the province is completely under the Taliban control,” Mujahid said.
Kandahar and several neighboring towns were under the Taliban siege as the Afghan troops resisted the insurgent advance for weeks.
After the withdrawal of international troops began on May 1, the US Air Force conducted several airstrikes to help Afghan forces push back the insurgents in Kandahar.
The fall of Kandahar came hours after the Taliban captured Herat, the third-largest Afghan city and capital of the western province of the same name. The US military had its second-largest military base in Kandahar after Bagram near Kabul.
Kandahar is strategically and economically a critical province since it is the hub of trade of the land-locked country with neighboring Pakistan.
Kandahar is also considered the Taliban birthplace and served as the base of insurgent commander Mullah Omar from 1996-2001 when the militia ruled the country.
In their rapid advances in southern Afghanistan, known as the Taliban heartland, the militants took over Lashkargah on Thursday night after weeks of fierce fighting with government forces over the control of Helmand province.
Attaullah Afghan, the head of the Helmand council, told EFE that the militants Friday morning hoisted their white flag over the Governor House to signal that they were in command.
The regional army commander, the Helmand governor, and other officials flew out of Lashkargah in a chopper Thursday night.