Taliban seize Afghan provincial capital Zaranj

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Close Spin Boldak border; Seek visa-free travel for Afghans to Pakistan

Kabul

The Taliban captured an Afghan provincial capital and assassinated the government’s top media officer in Kabul on Friday, dealing twin high-profile blows to the Western-backed administration.

A police spokesman in southern Nimroz province said the capital Zaranj had fallen to the Taliban because of a lack of reinforcements from the government.

The Taliban have intensified their campaign to defeat the US-backed government as foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.

The insurgents have taken dozens of districts and border crossings in recent months and put pressure on several provincial capitals, including Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south, as foreign troops withdraw.

Zaranj was the first provincial capital to fall to the group since the United States reached a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 for a US troop pullout.

A local source said the Taliban had seized the governor’s office, the police headquarters and an encampment near the Iranian border.

Taliban sources said the group was celebrating, and Zaranj’s fall would boost the morale of their fighters in other provinces. A Taliban commander, said it has strategic importance as it is on the border with Iran.

“This is the beginning and see how other provinces fall in our hands very soon,” he said.
In Kabul, Taliban attackers killed Dawa Khan Menapal, head of the Government Media and Information Centre, in the latest in a series of assassinations aimed at weakening President Ashraf Ghani’s democratically elected government.

In a tweet, US Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson said he was saddened and disgusted by the death of Menapal, whom he called a friend who provided truthful information to all Afghans.

Elsewhere, Taliban fighters intensified clashes with Afghan forces and attacked militias allied with the government, officials said, stretching their dominance of border towns and closing in on two provincial capitals.

At least 10 Afghan soldiers and a commander of armed members belonging to the Abdul Rashid Dostum militia group in the northern province of Jowzjan were killed.
Meanwhile, the Taliban closed a key border crossing with Pakistan on Friday, saying no one would be allowed through until Islamabad dropped or relaxed its visa requirements for Afghans.

In a statement on Friday, the Taliban statement called on Pakistan to scrap all visa requirements for Afghans.

“(The crossing) will remain closed for all types of commuting, including transit and trade, for both sides, and pedestrians, until the Pakistani side leaves the gate open, morning to evening, for Afghans holding [Pakistani issued] migration cards or [Afghan] ID cards,” the insurgent group’s shadow governor for Kandahar province said in the statement.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group’s leadership had endorsed the move, and on Friday the border had been closed.

The closure could impact import of medicines and other essential goods as violence has sharply escalated in Afghanistan amidst a pandemic, with the United Nations saying hundreds of thousands have been displaced internally. — Agencies

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