Taliban takes control of first provincial capital, as UN urges militants to ‘stop attacks’

The Taliban, on Friday, announced they have taken control of Zaranj in southern Nimroz province, which would be their first provincial capital, in a symbolic victory. However, government forces refuted the news saying fighting was still ongoing and Zaranj had not fallen. Nimroz is sparsely populated in a region that is mainly desert and Zaranj, the provincial capital, has about 50,000 residents. The province’s governor, Abdul Karim Barahawi, fled Zaranj for refuge in the peaceful Chahar Burjak district, where the local ethnic Baluch population has given him protection.

The Taliban have been surging for months in Afghanistan, taking swaths of land as US and NATO forces complete their final pullout from the country by the end of the month. The battles intensified lately as the Taliban laid siege to provincial capitals in southern and western Afghanistan, after capturing district after district and even seizing several key border crossings.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Associated Press that the insurgents killed Dawa Khan Menapal, the chief of the Afghan government’s press operations for local and foreign media. He had previously been a deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

At the same time, the UN envoy for Afghanistan urged the Security Council on Friday to demand that the Taliban immediately stop attacking cities in their offensive to take more territory as American and NATO troops pull out of the country.

Deborah Lyons also called on the international community to urge both sides to stop fighting and negotiate to prevent a catastrophe in war-torn Afghanistan. The latest Taliban surge, she warned, is reminiscent of attacks on large urban centres in Syria’s war and the Bosnian war in the 1990s that devastated Sarajevo.

For his part, the Afghan ambassador to the United Nations denounced the “Taliban offensive as a deliberate act of barbarism,” and claimed the insurgents are being aided in their onslaught by more than 10,000 foreign fighters from 20 terror networks, including al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. He offered no evidence to back up his claim.

“This is not a civil war, but a war of criminalised and terrorist networks, fought on the back of Afghans,” said Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai.

Lyons, speaking to an in-person meeting of the council virtually from Kabul, appealed to council members to act with unity to prevent Afghanistan from descending into a situation of catastrophe so serious that it would have few, if any, parallels this century.