Taliban surround Afghan city as commandos launch counterattack

July 8, 2021: Taliban fighters on motorbikes roamed a provincial Afghan capital Thursday after a day of heavy fighting that saw them storm the city in their most brazen assault since the United States stepped up its troop withdrawal.

The government flew in hundreds of commandos to Qala-i-Naw in Badghis, the first provincial capital to face an all-out assault by the Taliban since May 1 when the insurgents launched a blistering campaign to capture new territory.

With the withdrawal of the US military “90 percent complete,” according to the Pentagon, fears are growing that the force will be expanded without significant US air support. Residents of Qala-e-Nawab had either fled the city or stayed indoors after more than 24 hours of fierce fighting, which saw the Afghan Air Force attack Taliban strongholds. “The Taliban are still in the city,” resident Aziz Tawakoli told AFP. “You can see them going up and down the streets on their motorcycles.”

He said many of the city’s 75,000 people had fled their homes — either to neighbouring districts or to Herat. “The shops are closed and there is hardly anyone on the streets,” Tawakoli said, adding that helicopters and planes had bombed Taliban targets through the night.

Badghis provincial council member Zia Gul Habibi said the Taliban suffered casualties, but also surrounded the city. “All districts are under their control… People are really in fear, All shops and government institutions are closed. There are still reports of sporadic fighting,” She said.

Parisila Herawai, a rights activist in the city, expressed concern for the safety of women in particular.

“It is an emergency situation for all women, especially activists,” she told AFP. “If the Taliban plan to remain in the city, we will not be able to work.”

On Wednesday, the Taliban briefly seized police headquarters and the local office of the country’s spy agency but were later pushed back. As news of the attack spread, videos of the clashes flooded social media. Some people saw armed Taliban fighters on motorcycles entering the city, while spectators cheered. Local officials said some security officers had surrendered to the Taliban, and the insurgents had released hundreds of prisoners and opened the doors of the city jail. Most were recaptured, officials said.

Spokesman Fawad Aman said on Twitter that the Defense Ministry said overnight that hundreds of commandos had arrived in the city to launch a “large-scale operation”. The attack on Qala-e-Naw Noon came as the Taliban launched a nationwide but mostly siege operation in the north, capturing dozens of districts since early May. The fighting appears to be spreading in the neighboring province of Herat, where authorities have acknowledged defeat in two districts at the hands of insurgents.

Human rights group Human Rights Watch said the rebels forced people out of their homes in the north. They have taken over. “The Taliban’s retaliatory attacks on pro-government civilians are an alarming warning of the danger of future atrocities,” said Patricia Gossman, HRW’s associate director. “The Taliban leadership has the power to stop these abuses by its own forces, but they have not shown that they are willing to do so,” he said.

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