The Taliban launched a major attack on a provincial capital in Afghanistan on Wednesday, the first time since the US military withdrew permanently from the country when rebels launched a fierce offensive.
Fierce fighting broke out in the western city of Qala-i-Naw, the capital of Badghis, and the Taliban occupied the police headquarters and the offices of the country’s spy agency.
Afghan Defense Minister Bismila Mohammedi said the government forces are in a “very sensitive military situation” and added that the “war is intense” with the Taliban.
The attack took place just hours after Washington announced that the US military had completed more than 90% of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, and after the Kabul government held talks with Taliban representatives in neighboring Iran.
Since US and NATO forces announced their final withdrawal from Afghanistan in early May, the Taliban have launched a dizzying movement across Afghanistan, seizing dozens of rural areas and raising fears that the government is in crisis.
“The enemy has entered the city, all the districts have fallen,” Badghis governor Hessamuddin Shams told reporters in a text message.
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.
She said the Taliban had entered the city’s police headquarters and the local office of the country’s spy agency, the National Directorate of Security.
In a separate video message sent to reporters, Shams attempted to calm the residents of the city, even as he appeared armed with a rifle with gunfire rattling in the distance.
“My message is please keep your calm. I assure you that we will, all of us, together defend the city,” he said.