Kabul (dpa) – The Taliban are making great strides in their attempt to take power in Afghanistan. On Thursday, three provincial capitals fell into the hands of the Islamists, two of which were of great significance.
In the morning they first captured the provincial capital of Gasni in the southeast of the country, just 150 kilometers away. In the evening Herat followed, the third largest city. The militant Islamists brought under their control 12 of the 34 provincial capitals in less than a week. Further Taliban attacks were also reported from Kandahar and Lashkargah in the south.
The Taliban fighter is spinning in circles. He films with his mobile phone, and what he films is something few Afghans believe: his ‘mujahideen brothers’, as he calls them, in front of the historic 15th century citadel of the city of Herat. It was restored with western funds, including from Germany. Even foreign tourists have visited them. And now armed Taliban are walking ahead of her, inspecting police cars they’ve captured there.
Earlier weeks of attacks in Herat
The fall of the historic city of Herat, with an estimated 600,000 inhabitants, was preceded by weeks of attacks on the city. The Taliban were initially held in check by the security forces and militias of local politician and former warlord Ismail Chan, and in some cases were also pushed back.
Thursday afternoon, however, more and more reports came that the Islamists were advancing towards the center from three sides. First from the east; they then engaged Ismail Chan’s militia in an attack in the west, which in 2001 had helped the US as one of the leaders of the Northern Alliance to oust the Taliban. And finally, the Islamists also advanced from the north.
Videos on social media show Taliban fighters in Herat storming into the middle of the street without even taking cover. Finally, on Thursday night (local time), the governor’s palace, police headquarters and prison were under Taliban control. Provincial Councilor Ghulam Habib Hashimi accused the security forces of not fighting. Only the popular uprisings recently staged by Ismail Chan resisted taking over the city, he said.
Gasni strategically important
By morning, the case of the city of Gasni had already set alarm bells ringing. Gasni has about 180,000 inhabitants and is located on the important ring road that connects the largest cities in the country. Due to its proximity to Kabul, the Taliban had attempted to take it several times. In the evening, shortly after Herat, the Islamists also took over the small provincial capital of Kala-e Nau in Badghis province in the northwest.
“The ring around Kabul is getting tighter,” said Afghanistan expert Thomas Ruttig of the Kabul think tank Afghanistan Analysts Network after the fall of Gasni. The Taliban now have two options: “attack immediately or wait for the government in Kabul to collapse,” Ruttig said.
After waiting it didn’t seem like Thursday night (local time). Disturbing news came from other cities. They had already taken the prison in Kandahar and, according to reports, the police headquarters in Lashkargah.
Last hope for negotiations
Given the situation, says Afghanistan expert Ruttig, one can only hope that a way out of the negotiations will be found to prevent further casualties and destruction. There are now doubts from diplomatic circles that the Taliban political team responsible for the peace talks still has much to say. Rather, it is the time of the commanders that stands out.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) warned the Taliban against establishing a caliphate in the country. Then there will be “not a cent” of German development aid, which currently amounts to about 430 million euros per year, Maas said on Thursday in the ZDF “Morgenmagazin”. “The Taliban know that too.” He thinks the Islamists will join and dominate the government in Afghanistan. It is then crucial what the future constitution of the country will look like and what rights will be for the people.
US government sends message to Taliban
The US government said Thursday that a new Afghan government would not be recognized if it seized power by force. This “message to the Taliban” will later be expressed in a joint statement with several international partners, including Germany. A violent takeover by the Taliban would isolate Afghanistan internationally, also suspending aid payments, a US State Department spokesman said.
The spokesman also announced that the US will minimize its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks. The embassy in Kabul will remain open at its current location. A spokesman for the US Department of Defense announced the temporary relocation of about 3,000 additional soldiers to Afghanistan to strengthen security at Kabul airport. It’s about supporting the downsizing of the US embassy staff. The US mission in Afghanistan officially ends on August 31.
Dozens of Germans still in the country
The Foreign Ministry on Thursday called on German citizens to leave Afghanistan quickly. At the moment there is still “a high double-digit number” of Germans in the country. Maas announced that “one or two charter flights” would be organized before the end of the month to fly “a larger number of people” out of Afghanistan. These are mainly former Afghan local employees who have worked for the German armed forces, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or other federal ministries in Afghanistan. For weeks there has been criticism that the repatriation is going too slowly.
Federal Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer was deeply concerned about the rapid advance of the Taliban on Deutschlandfunk. “That’s why the pictures are very, very bitter, especially in view of our commitment over the past twenty years,” said the CDU politician. The last Bundeswehr soldiers left the country at the end of June.