Afghan residents stay off streets, hide in homes as Taliban march towards Mazar-e-Sharif

Published on Aug 10, 2021 06:07 PM IST

On Tuesday, India began evacuating its diplomats and nationals from the north Afghanistan city by announcing a special flight for late evening.

Taliban have captured six provincial capitals in Afghanistan, with Aibak city being the latest.
Taliban have captured six provincial capitals in Afghanistan, with Aibak city being the latest.
Written by Sharangee Dutta | Edited by Poulomi Ghosh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Residents of northern Afghanistan hid in their homes as Taliban fighters were strengthening their march towards the region’s biggest city Mazar-e-Sharif, news agency Reuters reported on Tuesday. The Islamic extremist group captured Aibak, capital of Samangan province, on Monday after meeting with minimal resistance. With this, as many as six provincial capitals have been captured by the group, government officials and Taliban fighters themselves have confirmed.

In the wake of the US taking back their troops from the country after two decades, President Ashraf Ghani called on regional strongmen to support his government.

Taliban fighters were tightening their capture in Aibak on the main road between Mazar-e-Sharif and the national capital, Kabul, by moving into government buildings, Reuters reported citing residents.

The civilians further said that a majority of the government security force members appeared to have withdrawn before the rapidly marching Taliban.

Talking about living conditions in Aibak, Sher Mohamed Abbas, a provincial tax officer, said that the only way is “self-imposed house arrest or to find a way to leave for Kabul.”

The father of four children, however, told Reuters that Kabul is also “not safe anymore.”

Abbas further stated that Taliban fighters had come to his office, and told workers to go home. However, both he and other residents said that they hadn’t seen nor heard fighting on Tuesday.

Security forces in Pul-e-Khumri, to the southeast of Aibak, were engulfed when Taliban fighters closed in on the town from the primary junction on the road to Kabul, an official said.

Meanwhile, Gulam Bahauddin Jailani, head of the national disaster authority, said that fighting between Taliban fighters and Afghan army was underway in 24 of the 34 provinces, and 60,000 families had been displaced over the last two months – with a majority of them seeking refuge in Kabul.

Meanwhile, India on Tuesday commenced an evacuation process for its diplomats and nationals from Mazar-e-Sharif. “A special flight is leaving from Mazar-e-Sharif to New Delhi. Any Indian nationals in and around Mazar-e-Sharif are requested to leave for India in the special flight scheduled to depart late today evening,” the consulate wrote in a Twitter post.

They further asked Indian nationals who want to avail of the special flight service to drop a message on two WhatsApp numbers with details of their full name, passport number, and the document’s date of expiry.

This development comes a month after India evacuated around 50 officials and security personnel from the consulate in Kandahar on July 10 after intense fighting between the Afghan army and the Taliban.

Also Read | India advises citizens in Afghanistan to make immediate arrangements for return

The US will also complete the process of withdrawing its forces by the end of this month, as per a deal with the Taliban in exchange for the Islamist extremist group’s promises to prevent using Afghanistan for global terrorism. The Taliban, however, have promised not to attack foreign forces as they withdraw but didn’t agree to a ceasefire with the Afghan government forces as well, Reuters report stated.

Though the US has been launching airstrikes backing the Afghan government troops, the country said it was up to the Afghan forces to defend their country. “It’s their struggle,” John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday.

On the other hand, Ghani’s aides in Kabul said that the President appealed to the civilians to defend the country’s “democratic fabric.”

In north Afghanistan, the Taliban has captured Aibak and Kunduz cities till now, thereby igniting fears among the government and civilians of a possible overrun of Mazar-e-Sharif, capital of Balkh province.

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