Taliban captures Kandahar and Herat

Taliban captures Kandahar and Herat

Taliban captures Kandahar and Herat

The Taliban have captured Afghanistan’s second largest city, Kandahar, in what is a crushing blow for the government and a major win for the militants. The southern city was once the Taliban’s stronghold, and is strategically important as a trade hub. The insurgents also seized the nearby city of Lashkar Gah and now control about a third of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the Taliban advance.

Kandahar is the heartland of the Taliban, ethnic Pashtun fighters who emerged in the province in 1994 amid the chaos of civil war to sweep through most of the rest of the country over the next two years. Government forces were still in control of Kandahar’s airport, which was the U.S. military’s second biggest base in Afghanistan during their 20-year mission. A police officer said officials and commanders had flown by helicopter out of the last government stronghold there at around midnight on Thursday and some 200 soldiers had surrendered to the Taliban after tribal elders intervened.

The U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke to President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday and told him the United States “remains invested in the security and stability of Afghanistan”. They also said the United States was committed to supporting a political solution.

Britain said it would deploy about 600 troops to help its citizens leave while other embassies and aid groups said they too were getting their people out. The Taliban had until recent days focused their offensive on the north, a region they never fully controlled during their rule and the heartland of Northern Alliance forces who marched into Kabul with U.S. support in 2001.

Earlier, the Taliban managed to capture the city of Ghazni, which sits on a crucial north-south highway just 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of Kabul, thus cutting of the capital city from an arterial supplies route.