-Taliban launch assault on Afghan provincial capital
Middle East Desk
TEHRAN: An Afghan government delegation met with Taliban representatives in Tehran Wednesday, the Iranian foreign ministry said, as the Islamist militia pressed a lightning advance amid the pullout of US troops.
Opening the Tehran talks, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif welcomed the departure of its US foe from its eastern borders but warned: “Today the people and political leaders of Afghanistan must make difficult decisions for the future of their country.”
Leading negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai headed the Taliban delegation while former vice president Younus Qanooni represented the government, the Iranian ministry said. On Tuesday, Afghan authorities vowed to retake all the districts lost to the Taliban as the pullout of US forces neared completion.
Hundreds of commandos were deployed to counter the insurgents’ blistering offensive in the north, a day after more than 1,000 government troops fled into neighboring Tajikistan. But on Wednesday, the Taliban launched a major assault on a provincial capital in Afghanistan, the first since the US military began its final drawdown of troops from the country, as insurgents press on with a blistering offensive.
Fierce fighting erupted in the western city of Qala-i-Naw, the capital of Badghis, with the militants seizing police headquarters and offices of the country’s spy agency.
Afghanistan’s Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi said government forces were in a “very sensitive military situation,” adding that “the war is raging” with the Taliban. The onslaught came just hours after Washington announced US forces on the ground had completed more than 90 percent of their withdrawal from Afghanistan, and as the Kabul government held talks with Taliban representatives in neighboring Iran.
The militants have waged a dizzying campaign across Afghanistan since US and NATO forces announced the final withdrawal from the country in early May, seizing dozens of rural districts and stirring fears that the government is in crisis. “The enemy has entered the city, all the districts have fallen,” Badghis governor Hessamuddin Shams told reporters. Badghis provincial council chief Abdul Aziz Bek confirmed the assault, saying some security officials had surrendered to the Taliban. “The provincial council officials have fled to an army camp in the city. Fighting continues in the city,” added Badghis provincial council member Zia Gul Habibi.