The militants faced little resistance in taking Zaranj, a city of around 1.6 million people. According to Afghan government sources, the provincial administration had struck a deal with the Taliban allowing the authorities in the city to flee across the border to Iran with their families.
A senior official of Nimroz police told TOI on condition of anonymity that the city has been seized by the Taliban due to the lack of reinforcements from Kabul. “The 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army was responsible for security of the city. Since the government forces had shifted all its focus to the Lashkar Gah, the capital of the neighbouring Helmand province, the collapse of Zaranj had become inevitable,” the official said, adding that the city was taken over by militants without a single bullet being fired.
The seizure of the first provincial capital was a major breakthrough for the insurgent group since Washington announced it would complete its troops withdrawal from Afghanistan by next month.
Taliban sources said the group was celebrating their victory. Zaranj’s fall would boost the morale of their fighters in other provinces, they added. A Taliban commander, declining to reveal his identity, said that Zaranj has strategic importance for the group as it is on the border with Iran. “This is just the beginning. Very soon other provinces will fall into our hands,” he said.
Nauroz Khan, a local, said that the city’s residents are scared following the Taliban victory. “All the people in the city have confined themselves to their homes. They live in fear and are worried that Taliban may target people on mere suspicion for being a part of the previous government,” Khan said.
In recent weeks, the Taliban had shifted their focus from the country’s sparsely populated rural districts to provincial capitals. Currently, the insurgents have put pressure on several provincial capitals, including Herat, Kandahar, Sheberghan and Lashkar Gah.
Reports from the war-ravaged country suggest that intense fighting was going on around the intelligence headquarters in the centre of Lashkar Gah, and also around its main prison. The speculation is that the Taliban might be trying to break into the prison to release some of the Taliban detainees.
Meanwhile, the Afghan forces claimed to have killed a Taliban commander, Mawlawi Mubarak, who, according to the government, was the commander of the group’s special forces, called the ‘Red Unit’. The death, however, has not been confirmed by the Taliban.