The Taliban seized the city of Jalalabad early Sunday, cutting off Afghanistan’s increasingly isolated capital Kabul to the east as the insurgents’ blitz across the country continued ahead of the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the country after two decades of war.
The collapse of Jalalabad, which had been the last major city standing besides Kabul, leaves Afghanistan’s central government in control of just the capital and seven other provincial capitals. In a nationwide offensive that has taken just over a week, the Taliban has defeated, co-opted or sent Afghan security forces fleeing from wide swathes of the country, even with some air support by the US military.
President Ashraf Ghani, who spoke to the nation Saturday for the first time since the offensive began, appears increasingly isolated as well. Warlords he negotiated with just days earlier have surrendered to the Taliban, leaving Ghani without a military option. Ongoing negotiations in Qatar, the site of a Taliban office, also have failed to stop the insurgents’ advance as thousands of civilians flee into Kabul.
The militants posted photos online early Sunday showing them in the governor’s office in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province.
Abrarullah Murad, a lawmaker from the province told The Associated Press that the insurgents seized Jalalabad after elders negotiated the fall of the government there. Murad said there was no fighting as the city surrendered.
The seizure Sunday comes amid rapid gains by the Taliban over the last week, pressuring Afghanistan’s central government as US, British and Canadian forces rush troops in to help their diplomatic staffs still there.
The fall Saturday of Mazar-e-Sharif, the country’s fourth largest city, which Afghan forces and two powerful former warlords had pledged to defend, hands the insurgents control over all of northern Afghanistan.
On his speech Saturday, Ghani vowed not to give up the “achievements” of the 20 years since the US-led invasion toppled the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks.
The US has continued holding peace talks between the government and the Taliban in Qatar this week, and the international community has warned that a Taliban government brought about by force would be shunned. But the insurgents appear to have little interest in making concessions as they rack up victories on the battlefield.
“We have started consultations, inside the government with elders and political leaders, representatives of different levels of the community as well as our international allies,” Ghani said. “Soon the results will be shared with you,” he added, without elaborating further.
Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled their homes, with many fearing a return to the Taliban’s oppressive rule. The group had previously governed Afghanistan under a harsh version of Islamic law in which women were forbidden to work or attend school, and could not leave their homes without a male relative accompanying them.
Salima Mazari, one of the few female district governors in the country, expressed fears about a Taliban takeover Saturday in an interview from Mazar-e-Sharif, before it fell.
“There will be no place for women,” said Mazari, who governs a district of 36,000 people near the northern city. “In the provinces controlled by the Taliban, no women exist there anymore, not even in the cities. They are all imprisoned in their homes.”