By RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi
August 14, 2021
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has vowed not to give up the “achievements” of the last 20 years as the Taliban attacked a major northern city and were reported making advances elsewhere.
Ghani’s first public appearance on August 14 came as the Taliban launched an assault on Mazar-e Sharif and were reported to have seized control of two more provincial capitals as well as a city not far from Kabul.
In his brief televised address on August 14, Ghani said he was consulting with local leaders and international partners on the situation in the country. He did not announce his resignation, something that some observers had speculated was possible.
“As your president, my focus is on preventing further instability, violence and displacement of my people,” Ghani said, and that the “remobilization of armed forces is a top priority.”
His remarks came hours after reports that Taliban militants had launched a major assault on Mazar-e Sharif, a major northern city located around 100 kilometers from the border with Uzbekistan.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi that the city was under Taliban attack from four directions. That was later confirmed by Munir Ahmad Farhad, a spokesman for the provincial governor in northern Balkh Province, where Mazar-e Sharif is located.
Balkh police spokesman Adel Shah Adel told Radio Azadi that the clashes took place in three areas and that air strikes had been carried out on Taliban positions. Adel said the Taliban had suffered heavy casualties.
Ghani flew to Mazar-e Sharif — a city of some 500,000 — on August 11 to rally the city’s defenses, meeting with several militia commanders, including Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad Noor, who command thousands of fighters.
The fighting around Mazar-e Sharif came amid news that Sharana, capital of the southeastern Paktika Province, had been overrun on August 14 by Taliban militants, local officials told Radio Azadi. Taliban fighters later captured Asadabad, the capital of the eastern Kunar Province as well.
Taliban fighters have made major advances in recent days, including capturing Herat and Kandahar, the country’s second- and third-largest cities. They now control 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, leaving Ghani’s Western-backed government in control of a smattering of provinces in the center and east, as well as Kabul.
The Taliban meanwhile released a video announcing the takeover of the main radio station in the southern city of Kandahar, renaming it the Voice of Sharia, or Islamic law.
In the video, an unnamed insurgent said all employees were present and would broadcast news, political analysis, and recitations of the Koran, the Islamic holy book. It appears the station will no longer play music.
The first Marines from a contingent of 3,000 have arrived in Kabul to help partially evacuate the U.S. Embassy and secure the city’s airport.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that most of the 3,000 additional troops will be in place by August 15 and “will be able to move thousands per day” out of Afghanistan.
Kirby acknowledged on August 13 that it appeared Taliban fighters were trying to isolate the city, but said the capital was not “in an imminent threat environment.”
The Taliban’s rapid offensive has picked up pace as U.S.-led international troops aim to complete their withdrawal by August 31. The deadline was set after U.S. President Joe Biden announced in April that he was ending U.S. involvement in the war after nearly 20 years.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on August 13 expressed concern about the situation and urged the Taliban to halt their offensive and “negotiate in good faith.”
“The message from the international community to those on the warpath must be clear: seizing power through military force is a losing proposition. That can only lead to prolonged civil war or to the complete isolation of Afghanistan,” Guterres said.
Guterres also said he was “deeply disturbed” by accounts of poor treatment of women in areas seized by the Taliban.
“It is particularly horrifying and heartbreaking to see reports of the hard-won rights of Afghan girls and women being ripped away,” Guterres said.
With reporting by AFP, AP, BBC, and Reuters