Thousands flee as Taliban eye full control of northern Afghanistan – News Vibe24

    Thousands flee as Taliban eye full control of northern Afghanistan - Times of India
    KABUL: The Taliban took control of six Afghan provincial capitals on Tuesday after a blizzard in the north forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes for the relative safety of Kabul and other centers.
    The insurgents now have their eyes on Mazar-i-Sharif, the largest city in the north, the fall of which would mean the complete collapse of government control in an area traditionally anti-Taliban.
    Government forces are also battling hardline Islamists in Kandahar and Helmand, the southern Pashtun-speaking provinces from which the Taliban draw power.
    The United States – withdrawing from the battlefield at the end of the month and ending the longest war – has withdrawn from the battlefield. However, Zalmay Khalilzad’s special envoy has been sent to Qatar to try to persuade the Taliban to accept the ceasefire.
    Khalilzad “will push the Taliban to stop their military offensive,” the State Department said, and “will help formulate a common international response to the rapidly deteriorating situation.”
    Officials from Afghanistan’s most affluent neighbors – Pakistan, China and Iran – will also attend the meetings.
    But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it was up to the Afghan government and its forces to change the situation and that the United States “could not do much” to help.
    Michael Kugelman, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for the Study, doubted that Washington had the means to change anything.
    “I am afraid that the Taliban (are) so strong and the Afghan army is so entangled right now, it will be difficult to find any kind of momentum change from the US,” he said.
    The Taliban have emerged largely indifferent to the peace attacks and appear to be aiming for a military victory to return to power after their overthrow 20 years ago after the 9/11 attacks.
    As the fighting raged, tens of thousands of people moved inland, with families fleeing recently captured Taliban cities with stories of brutal treatment at the hands of insurgents.
    “The Taliban are attacking and looting,” said Rahima, who is now camping with hundreds of families in a park in the capital, Kabul, after fleeing Sebergan province.
    “If there is a young girl or a widow in a family, they take them by force. We left to protect our honor.”
    “We are so exhausted,” added Farid, an evacuee from Kunduz who did not want to be identified.
    In the Taliban-held northern city of Kunduz over the weekend, residents said shops had reopened in the center as insurgents turned their attention to government forces who had retreated from the airport.
    “People are opening their shops and businesses, but you can still see fear in their eyes,” said shopkeeper Habibula.
    Another resident, who lived near the airport, said there had been heavy fighting for days.
    “The Taliban are hiding in people’s homes in the area and government forces are bombing them,” said Hasib, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    “From the window of my house, I see women, children and men leaving. Some of them are barefoot … some are taking crying children with them.”
    The Taliban gained notoriety during their first term in power from 1996-2001 for introducing a harsh interpretation of the Islamic rule that barred girls from education and women from work.
    Crimes were punished with public flogging or executions, and many activities were banned – from playing music to non-religious television.
    They have given little indication of how they would rule if they regained power, other than that it would be in accordance with the Qur’an, as opponents fear losing hard-earned rights.
    Following the occupation of Aybak on Monday, insurgents have now taken control of five provincial capitals in the north, raising fears that the government has lost control of the region.
    They also took Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province, to the southwest.
    On Monday, the Taliban said they were moving to Mazar-i-Sharif – the largest city in the north and a key government control point in the region – after seizing Sheberghan to the west and Kunduz and Taloqan to the east. The
    But Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said Afghan forces had the upper hand there.
    “Great success,” he wrote on Twitter.
    But as the fighting drew nearer to the city, the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif called on the country’s citizens to board a “special flight” scheduled for later in the day.
    “Any Indian national in and around Mazar-e-Sharif is invited to leave for India,” an official statement posted on social media said.

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