Another Afghan provincial capital falls to Taliban weeks ahead of US withdrawal
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban captured another provincial capital in Afghanistan on Monday, the sixth to fall to the group in recent days as the last American troops withdraw from the country, officials said.
Insurgents overtook Aibak, the capital of northern Samangan province, around noon after government officials and security forces retreated, provincial council member Mohammad Hashim Sarwary told Stars and Stripes.
“Aibak was surrounded by the Taliban for more than two weeks, but today they captured it without any fighting,” Sarwary said in a phone interview.
Government forces withdrew from the city of about 10,000 people to avoid civilian casualties and destruction to homes and infrastructure, Haji Raz Mohammad, another provincial council member said by telephone.
Afghanistan’s defense and interior ministries were unable to immediately comment on the situation.
The fall of Aibak came a day after the Taliban seized three other provincial capitals and added to growing fears that the insurgents may take over the country once international forces leave later this month.
Afghan forces launched a counteroffensive in neighboring Kunduz on Monday, hoping to push back Taliban fighters who overran the city center the day before, the Defense Ministry said.
Kunduz, a key commercial hub with a population of more than 350,000, is the biggest city to fall to the Taliban since the withdrawal of international forces began in May.
The insurgents also captured the smaller northern cities of Sar-e-Pul and Taleqan on Sunday after taking control of Sheberghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan province, on Saturday and Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province in the west, on Friday.
The Afghan government has attempted to play down the Taliban advances, saying government forces are fighting for control of the capital cities.
The U.S. continues to support Afghan forces with airstrikes, but it’s unclear whether the help will continue once the withdrawal of international forces is complete by Aug. 31.
American military officials have previously said future “over-the-horizon” air support will target terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, but not necessarily the Taliban.