Kabul (dpa) – The Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan have now also captured the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in their swift capture.
Until a few weeks ago, a large military camp stood there, and since the end of June, the German soldiers have withdrawn from the crisis state. That Mazar-i-Sharif fell on Saturday was confirmed by a security source and a provincial council of the German news agency. The government now has only two major cities – Jalalabad in the east and the capital Kabul.
The Islamists have been intensively attacking Mazar-i-Sharif for about a week. They tried again and again from different sides to penetrate the economically strong metropolis with an estimated 500,000 inhabitants. Militias led by ex-Governor Mohammad Atta Nur and ex-warlord Abdul Raschid Dostum had recently built an additional line of defense north of the city to support security forces.
In Mazar-i-Sharif, the German armed forces had until recently a large field camp at Camp Marmal near the airfield. Until the summer about 1,000 German soldiers were stationed there. After the decision to withdraw from the US and NATO, the last remaining soldiers were flown out overnight in four military aircraft at the end of June. The Bundeswehr recently trained Afghan security forces as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission. There may be other local armed forces in the city. They are afraid of retaliation from the Taliban against them.
Security sources said the Islamists entered the city around 9 p.m. (local time). They then released prisoners from the city’s central prison. A large part of the security forces have withdrawn to the Tschahar Kent district and to Camp Marmal near the airport.
Sabiullah Kakar’s provincial council said the city is under complete Islamic control. The 209th Army Corps on the outskirts of the city also fell due to a “deal” with the Islamists. All the achievements of the past 20 years have been negated, according to Kakar. Mohammad Atta Nur and Abuld Raschid Dostum are said to have fled to the town of Hairatan on the border with Uzbekistan and are trying to cross the border. Other security forces would also try the same.
21 of the 34 provincial capitals conquered
Since US and NATO forces began to withdraw in May, the Taliban have made huge gains in territory. They now control 21 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals. Shortly before the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, local officials also confirmed the case of the provincial capital Gardis in Paktia in the southeast of the country. On Saturday, two other small provincial capitals in the east – Asadabad in Kunar and Sharana in Paktika in the southeast – went to the Taliban without a fight.
Herat and Kandahar, the country’s third and second largest cities, fell to Islamists this week. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a short TV speech on Saturday that he was aware of the plight of the country. The “historical task” is now being addressed to prevent the deaths of more innocent people and to defend the achievements of civil society over the past 20 years.
In doing so, he did not respond to speculation that he could step down to pave the way for a possible political agreement with the Islamists. He is consulting with political leaders and international partners and wants to present the results “soon”.
Moments later, after Ghani’s meeting with political leaders, the presidential palace announced that they had agreed to set up an “authoritative” negotiating team to represent the republic in peace talks with the Taliban. These have been running since September, but without significant progress. Observers have repeatedly said recently that the Doha trial was dead.