U.S. Says No Afghan Outcome 'Inevitable' As Taliban Captures Strategic Targets In North
By RFE/RL's Radio Azadi August 11, 2021
The Taliban has captured a major military base, airport, and prison in the strategic northern city of Kunduz after the surrender there of hundreds of Afghan troops, while President Ashraf Ghani replaced the army chief of staff and traveled to a key regional hub to rally local defenses.
Meanwhile, the United States further stepped up its international push for a negotiated end to the Afghan violence despite "all recent indications" suggesting that the Taliban is seeking a "battlefield victory in Afghanistan."
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Afghan peace negotiations in Doha had been "painfully slow" and the "United States intends to forge an international consensus on Afghanistan, speaking with one voice on the need for a peace accord."
Shortly before Price spoke, the White House reiterated its commitment to its end-of-August exit timeline for U.S. troops and closely watching the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
But the White House said no particular outcome was "inevitable."
Amid a string of rapid advances by the militants across Afghanistan, a Defense Ministry spokesman tweeted that General Hibatullah Alizai had been named to replace General Wali Ahmadzai as the country's top military commander.
Earlier on August 11, Kunduz airport fell to the militants when most government forces there surrendered, while others retreated to the Aliabad district of Kunduz, sources told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid tweeted that the group had taken control of the airport and posted a video purportedly showing government soldiers joining the militants' ranks.
Dpa later quoted two local councilors as saying the entire 217th Pamir Corps surrendered to Taliban forces who overran a major base in Kunduz.
Amruddin Wali, a local lawmaker, told AFP that hundreds of Afghan soldiers and police who had retreated to the airport outside Kunduz after the Taliban captured most of the northern city at the weekend surrendered to the Taliban "with all their military gear."
Late on August 11, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also claimed to RFE/RL that militants had captured Kandahar's central prison after a long siege and released hundreds of prisoners.
A security source who asked to remain anonymous confirmed to Radio Azadi that government forces lost control of the prison, which recently held around 2,000 prisoners including many linked to the Taliban or heavily involved in anti-government fighting.
But the security source said the government had transferred the detention facility's key political inmates -- such as Taliban -- to Kabul over the past three weeks.
The Taliban has waged a fierce military offensive across Afghanistan since May 1, when the United States and its allies officially began a pullout slated for completion this month.
At least nine of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals have been reported captured by Taliban militants in the past week, after their months-long offensive shifted from rural districts to population centers.
One senior EU official has estimated that the group now controls at least 65 percent of the country.
Reuters quoted an unnamed U.S. defense official who cited U.S. intelligence as saying on August 11 that Taliban fighters could cut off the capital, Kabul, in 30 days and possibly capture it in 90 days.
"But this is not a foregone conclusion," the official reportedly added.
Ankara meanwhile signaled that it still planned to send troops to protect and run Kabul airport after U.S.-led international troops leave, although the NATO member state's officials are closely monitoring events.
Reuters quoted a "senior Turkish official" as saying that "for now nothing has changed regarding the [Turkish forces] taking control of Kabul Airport" and that "the talks and the process are continuing."
The Taliban has warned against any foreign troops remaining on Afghan soil.
President Ghani flew to Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province, "to check the general security in the northern zone," according to a statement released by the presidential office.
Earlier on August 11, the Taliban were said to have captured Faizabad, the capital of the remote northeastern province of Badakhshan.
That followed the fall of the northern city of Pol-e Khomri, capital of Baghlan Province; Farah city, the capital of the southwestern Farah Province, and Aybak, the capital of the northern Samangan Province.
Five other provincial capitals had been overrun since August 6: Kunduz, Sar-e Pol, Taloqan, Zaranj, and Sheberghan.
The loss of Mazar-e Sharif would be a major setback for the government because it is key to controlling northern Afghanistan -- long a stronghold of anti-Taliban warlords.
Government forces are also battling the militants in Kandahar and Helmand, the southern Pashto-speaking provinces from where the Taliban draws its strength.
In Kandahar, a spokesman said that government forces repelled an attack on the morning of August 11.
"Some 15 Taliban fighters were killed, and eight others were wounded due to the security forces' resistance to the Taliban attacks," Sadiq Issa told RFE/RL.
He did not provide details on casualties among Afghan forces.
The head of Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar, Mohammad Daud Farhad, told RFE/RL that two civilians were killed and 14 were wounded, including women and children, in the past 24 hours.
Ghani arrived in Mazar-e Sharif on August 11 and held talks with two longtime local strongmen -- Atta Muhammad Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum -- about its defense as Taliban fighters inched closer to its outskirts.
Dostum, who has been accused of war crimes against Taliban prisoners during the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban in 2001, flew into Mazar-e Sharif on August 11 with a group of fighters from Kabul and issued a warning to the Taliban after arriving in the city.
"The Taliban has come to the north several times but they were always trapped," Dostum said. "It is not easy for them to get out."
In Faizabad, local lawmaker Zabihullah Attiq told media on August 11 that security forces had retreated after days of heavy clashes and the militants confirmed on social media that they controlled the city.
"The Taliban have captured the city now," Attiq said.
Taliban gains over the past several weeks have been accompanied by widespread reports of revenge killings and other attacks on civilians.
U.S. diplomats are scrambling to breathe life back into peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, where special U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was pushing the Taliban to accept a cease-fire and stop its sweeping offensive.
President Joe Biden has stood firmly by his deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops by August 31 and urged Afghan leaders to "fight for themselves."
"I do not regret my decision" to withdraw U.S. troops after two decades of war, he told reporters. "They have got to want to fight. They have outnumbered the Taliban."
The European Union said on August 10 that it was considering more support for countries neighboring Afghanistan while a handful of EU member states insisted on continuing forced deportations amid fears of an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Afghans as Taliban fighters advance.
But Germany and the Netherlands said on August 11 that they were halting deportations to Afghanistan for the time being due to the unstable security situation there.
Greece's migration minister, Notis Mitarachi, quickly countered by saying such a suspension of people not entitled to international protection would "send the wrong message" and encourage Afghans to flee.
An EU official quoted the United Nations as estimating that 500,000 Afghans could be pushed toward neighboring Pakistan, Iran, or Tajikistan if the situation continues to deteriorate.
EU states reportedly fear a repeat of the migrant crisis that engulfed Europe in 2015 when well over 1 million migrants, including many from war-torn Syria, arrived in the European Union and sparked lasting political divisions in the bloc.
The United Nations said there have so far been no "large-scale displacements" across Afghanistan's borders, although an EU official was quoted as saying the UN estimated that 500,000 Afghans could be pushed toward neighboring Pakistan, Iran, and Tajikistan if the situation continues to deteriorate.
The Afghanistan representative for UNICEF, the UN's children's agency, said on August 9 that it was "shocked by the rapid escalation of grave violations against children in Afghanistan," adding, "The atrocities grow higher by the day."
The U.S. Central Command has said the troop withdrawal is more than 95 percent complete and will be finished by August 31, ahead of the September 11 anniversary of two decades since the Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States that prompted the invasion of Afghanistan.
This story includes reporting by Radio Azadi correspondents on the ground in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their protection.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and Tolo News
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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