Taliban target provincial cities in response to US strikes
Observer Report United Nations
The United Nations Security Council will hold an open meeting Friday (today) on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, diplomats said Thursday.
The discussion was requested by the Afghan government, as well as Norway and Estonia, and will take place at 1400 GMT, the diplomats added.
The Security Council last met on Afghanistan in June, but the situation in the conflict-ridden country has rapidly worsened since then.
The Taliban control large swathes of the countryside and are now challenging Afghan government forces in several large cities, including Herat, near the western border with Iran, and Kandahar in the south.
Fighting has raged since May, when US and other foreign forces began the first stage of a troop withdrawal due to be completed later this month.
The Afghan and US militaries have stepped up air strikes against the insurgents, and the Taliban warned Wednesday that they would target senior government officials in retaliation.
The European Union on Thursday condemned the Taliban’s latest deadly attacks in Afghanistan and demanded “an urgent, comprehensive and permanent ceasefire.”
Taliban militants have switched strategy from targeting rural areas of Afghanistan to attacking provincial cities, in response to increased U.S. air strikes after the United States said it was ending its longest war, three militant commanders said.
The Taliban have stepped up their campaign to defeat the U.S.-backed government as foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of conflict.
A regional U.S. commander said late last month the United States had increased air strikes to counter growing Taliban attacks, a move condemned by the Islamist group. –
Reuters Fighting has been particularly heavy inside the city of Herat, near the western border with Iran, Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province in the southwest, and Kandahar in the south.
The three Taliban commanders told Reuters that they were focused on capturing Herat and Kandahar, with Lashkar Gah in their sights.
“Mullah Yaqoob argued that when U.S. didn’t fulfil their commitment why should Taliban be made to follow the accord?” said one of the commanders, based in Kandahar, referring to the group’s military chief.
“Mullah Yaqoob has decided to capture Kandahar and Herat and now Helmand and then it could be Kunduz, Khost or any other province,” said the commander, saying the military leader’s arguments had won over the group’s political office.
Taliban negotiator Suhail Shaheen told Reuters the group was continuing its policy of seizing control of rural areas and implementing Islamic Sharia there, rather than focusing on cities.
“The operations in Kandahar and Herat are very much important to us and our priority is to capture the two crucial airports or airbases in Kandahar and Herat,” the Taliban commander in Kandahar said. Officials and experts said they saw signs of a change in strategy last month.
“Taliban are pushing against the provincial capitals … not just to exert pressure but to capture them,” said Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia analyst from Stanford University.
“Capture of Kandahar means a lot to the Taliban.
It was their capital and occupying the city is great morale boost for the Taliban… This is something they cherish and for Kandahar, Taliban can risk international ire,” said an Asian diplomatic source closely following the Taliban.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack at the acting defence minister’s residence on Tuesday and warned of further violence. — Reuters