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Taliban kill Afghan media chief in Kabul, take southern city

The White House said the Taliban’s actions would not win the group the international legitimacy it seeks.

“They do not have to stay on this trajectory. They can choose to devote the same energy to the peace process as they are to their military campaign,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

The Taliban often target government officials and those they perceive as working for the government or foreign forces, though several recent attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State group. The government most often holds the Taliban responsible.

Earlier this week, a Taliban bombing targeted the acting defence minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi. The attack in a heavily guarded upscale Kabul neighbourhood late on Tuesday killed at least eight people and wounded 20. The minister was unharmed. The bombing was followed by a gun battle that also killed four Taliban fighters. The militants said the attack was to avenge Taliban fighters killed during government offensives in rural provinces.

Meanwhile, Afghan and US aircraft pounded Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province on Friday, as the insurgents closed a major border crossing with neighbouring Pakistan.

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Residents in Helmand’s contested provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, said airstrikes destroyed a market in the centre of the city – an area controlled by the Taliban. Afghan officials say the Taliban now control nine out of the 10 districts of the city.

Afghanistan’s elite commandos have deployed to Lashkar Gah, backed up by airstrikes by the Afghan and US air forces.

The Taliban began sweeping across Afghanistan at an unexpected speed after the US and NATO began their final pullout in late April. The bitter fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghans, now living in miserable conditions in improvised shelters and makeshift camps in the southern, desert-like environment – brutally hot days and cold nights. Inside the cities where fighting is under way, thousands are trapped and unable to move from their homes.

In the southern city of Kandahar, the capital of the province with the same name, hundreds are sheltering in makeshift camps, wondering where they will get food for their children. In Lashkar Gah, the shuttered office of Action Against Hunger, a global humanitarian organisation, was hit in an airstrike on Thursday, the group said in a statement. Fighting had forced the organisation to close its office last week.

More than half of Afghanistan’s 421 districts and district centres are now in Taliban hands. While many of the districts are in remote regions, some are deeply strategic, giving the Taliban control of lucrative border crossings with Iran, Tajikistan and Pakistan.

A mortar shell hole in a shipping container after an airstrike against the Taliban in Lashkar Gah.

A mortar shell hole in a shipping container after an airstrike against the Taliban in Lashkar Gah.Credit:AP

At a special meeting at the UN Security Council on Friday, Deborah Lyons, the UN envoy to Afghanistan, said the human toll of the worsening fighting was deeply disturbing.

“The war in Afghanistan has entered a new, deadlier, and more destructive phase,” she said. “The provincial capitals of Kandahar, Herat, and Lashkar Gah in particular have come under significant pressure. This is a clear attempt by the Taliban to seize urban centres with the force of arms.”

“The human toll of this strategy is extremely distressing – and the political message is even more deeply disturbing,” she said, adding that in just 10 days in Lashkar Gah, 104 civilians were killed. Lyons appealed on the council to send a strong signal “that it is essential to stop fighting and negotiate, in that order.”

“Otherwise, there may be nothing left to win,” she said.

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In southeastern Afghanistan, the Taliban last month took control of the town of Spin Boldak on the border with Pakistan, one of Afghanistan’s busiest border crossings. Thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis cross daily and a steady stream of trucks passes through, bringing goods to land-locked Afghanistan from the Arabian Sea port city of Karachi in Pakistan.

The Taliban shuttered the crossing on Friday over a visa dispute, claiming Pakistan was abiding by Kabul government requirements for Afghans travelling into Pakistan to have a passport and a Pakistan visa. Previously, travel documents were rarely demanded and Afghans with local ID card could cross into Pakistan.

“The border will stay closed until Pakistan allows all Afghans to cross on the bases of our old procedure,” said a Taliban statement.

At the border, traders said about 1500 people were waiting on both sides on Friday to pass through. More than 600 trucks, many loaded with perishable fresh foods, were backed up in both countries.

Islamabad’s relationship with Kabul has been deeply troubled with both sides accusing each other of harbouring militants. Afghan Taliban leaders live in Pakistan and Kabul is bitterly critical of Pakistan for aiding them and treating their fighters in hospitals in Pakistan. Islamabad meanwhile charges that Kabul provides a safe haven to the Pakistani Taliban, a separate militant group that regularly stages attacks in Pakistan.

AP, Reuters

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