Offensive actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan: source

KABUL, BM, ($1=78.85 afghani) – Taliban fighters have carried out a series of offensive actions in northern Afghanistan in recent days, moving beyond their southern strongholds as international forces withdraw from the country, sources report.

According to the UN envoy to Afghanistan, as of May, the Taliban have seized more than 50 of 370 counties and are ready to take control of provincial capitals. “Those counties that have been captured surround the provincial capitals, suggesting the Taliban are preparing to try to seize these capitals when foreign forces are fully withdrawn,” Deborah Lyons told the UN Security Council.

According to Afghan officials, fierce fighting has taken place between the Taliban and government forces in recent days on the outskirts of three provincial capitals in the north of the country – Faryab, Balkh, and Kunduz.

The most recent spike in operations in the north has occurred outside of the traditional Taliban strongholds in southern provinces such as Helmand and Kandahar, where major fighting had previously taken place.

“The Taliban’s strategy is to gain the upper hand and make a strong presence in the northern part of the country, where they have long been resisted,” explained one senior Afghan security official, reserving anonymity where they have more influence and are more present.

Local officials in Kunduz said the Taliban had seized Shir Khan on the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan on Tuesday. A provincial council member, Ghulam Rabbani, said that fighting was also taking place outside of Kunduz, the capital of the province of the same name and that people were fleeing the city. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense said government forces have recaptured key areas from the Taliban’s hands in Kunduz and operations are ongoing.

Local officials and the Taliban reported that Taliban fighters had reached the outskirts of Mazar-i Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province, on Monday evening, and then withdrew.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the command has ordered militants to retreat from Mazar-i Sharif because Taliban top leaders do not want to take over the province until all US forces have left Afghanistan.

Since US authorities in April announced plans to withdraw troops without any preconditions by September 11, after nearly 20 years of conflict, violence has escalated across the country. The deteriorating morale of Afghan forces has raised fears of a Taliban seizure of power after the end of the withdrawal of foreign units, Reuters notes. The security official said the government is not abandoning areas to the Taliban but is withdrawing from some areas temporarily for tactical reasons to conserve limited resources.

Peace talks in the Qatar capital, Doha, have stalled, officials say, although meetings have taken place in recent days and the Taliban say they are ready for talks.

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, called on the UNSC to do everything in her power to get the parties back to the negotiating table. “The intensified conflict in Afghanistan means greater insecurity for many other countries near and far away from Afghanistan,” she warned.

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