Taliban seizes Herat; detains commander

0
240

The Taliban have taken more than a dozen provincial capitals in recent days and now control more than two-thirds of the country

News Desk/DNA

KABUL: Taliban insurgents detained veteran militia commander Mohammad Ismail Khan on Friday after they seized the western city of Herat, a provincial council member said. The insurgents also captured three more provincial capitals as they press a lightning offensive that is gradually encircling the capital, Kabul.

The seizure of Kandahar and Herat marks the biggest prizes yet for the Taliban, who have taken 12 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals as part of a weeklong blitz.

Khan, who has been leading fighters against the Taliban in recent weeks, was handed over to the insurgents along with the provincial governor and security officials under a pact, provincial council member Ghulam Habib Hashimi told Reuters.

“The Taliban agreed that they will not pose any threat or harm to the government officials who surrendered,” Hashimi said.

Khan is one of Afghanistan’s most prominent warlords. Known as the Lion of Herat, he battled Soviet occupiers in the 1980s and was a key member of the Northern Alliance whose US-backed forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed that Khan had been detained.

Meanwhile, the capture of Lashkar Gah — Helmand’s provincial capital — came after facing some of the heaviest fighting in the last two decades. Hundreds of foreign troops were killed there over the course of the nearly two-decade war.

The insurgents have taken more than a dozen provincial capitals in recent days and now control more than two-thirds of the country just weeks before the US plans to withdraw its last troops.

Attaullah Afghan, the head of the provincial council in Helmand, said that the Taliban captured the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah following heavy fighting and raised their white flag over governmental installations. He says that three national army bases outside of Lashkar Gah remain under the government’s control.

Atta Jan Haqbayan, the provincial council chief in Zabul province, said the local capital of Qalat fell to the Taliban and that officials were in a nearby army camp preparing to leave.

Two lawmakers from Afghanistan’s southern Uruzgan province said local officials surrendered the provincial capital, Tirin Kot, to the rapidly advancing Taliban. Bismillah Jan Mohammad and Qudratullah Rahimi confirmed the surrender on Friday. Mohammad said the governor was en route to the airport to depart for Kabul.