The Taliban captured a province just south of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, Saturday. Continuing its quest for control of Afghanistan, the group also commenced an offensive on a major city in the north ruled by former Afghan warlords.
Paktika, bordering Pakistan, fell to the terrorist insurgents Saturday afternoon local time, Afghan officials told Politico. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that Taliban militants had seized the city and that the Afghan fighters defending the ground had surrendered.
As the Islamic fundamentalist group sweeps across the country, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani attempted to reassure citizens in a speech Saturday that the Afghan army, in collaboration with international allies, is deliberating how to manage the deteriorating situation. He said the Afghan forces will concentrate their efforts on avoiding further aggression and casualty, emphasizing that he will not let the current conflict reverse the nearly 20 years of U.S.-backed stability and progress.
The Taliban’s gains comes in the wake of the United States’ formal military withdrawal, which President Biden announced months in advance. The insurgents have conquered much of northern, western, and southern Afghanistan in under three weeks with little resistance, vindicating those who feared the group would fill the power void left by American absence.
The Taliban’s Saturday advancements follow its Friday expansions, when it successfully invaded the country’s second and third largest cities, Kandahar and Herat. Victory in Kandahar carried great significance, as it is the province where the Taliban was founded and began operations in the 1990s after Soviet disengagement. The Taliban now controls over half of Afghanistan’s territory, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Long War Journal.
Earlier this week, President Biden, who initiated the United States’ departure from Afghanistan with an August 31 deadline, indicated that the administration did not predict an inevitable Taliban takeover. However, on Thursday Biden authorized the deployment of about 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to assist with the civilian evacuation from Kabul. As of now, the consulate will remain open at the Kabul airport awaiting further developments.
“This is not an abandonment. This is not an evacuation. This is not the wholesale withdrawal. What this is is a reduction in the size of our civilian footprint,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Thursday.