The Taliban reinforce their rapid advance with the capture of Kandahar, the second largest city in the country

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The advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan seems unstoppable, and much faster than expected when last spring the international troops that held the fundamentalist militia at bay began their final withdrawal after 20 years. The group has taken control in the last hours of Kandahar, in the south of the country, according to local government sources to Reuters. This city, the second largest in Afghanistan (614,000 inhabitants), is the spiritual home of the Taliban and a great Pashtun stronghold. The fall of Kandahar this Friday adds a new victory to those harvested a day before, one of the days of greatest conquests of the insurgents since they launched the offensive in May: the Taliban took this Thursday Ghazni, a key city to access Kabul by road (only 150 kilometers away), and Herat, the third largest city. The fundamentalist militia also assures that it has taken over Qala-i-Naw, in the northwest of the country, a former base for Spanish troops, and Lashkar Gah, in the Helmand province, besieged for weeks.

The United States, which fears that the insurgents will stand at the gates of Kabul before 90 days, announced that it will send 3,000 soldiers to ensure security while it evacuates most of the personnel from its Embassy in the capital, where it will leave only a minimal staff. , as reported by the State Department.

The spokesman, Ned Price, stressed that staff will be kept to continue with diplomatic and consular tasks. The Pentagon stressed that the plans to complete the military withdrawal by August 31 continue despite the fact that, in less than a week, the fundamentalists have taken control of 12 provincial capitals.

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Insurgents move fast, conquering territory almost daily in their wake. At the moment they control a third of the provincial capitals, a blow for the Afghan troops. Only four major cities, including Kabul, remain under government control, and two of them are under heavy siege by the Taliban.

In some cases the conquests have been easy, due to the little resistance put up by local leaders who consider the Taliban victory inevitable, but in other places there are intense combats with government forces, which no longer have the powerful air support that before they were offered by foreign troops. There is currently fighting in nine of the 34 Afghan provinces, where in the last 24 hours 217 Taliban fighters have died and 108 have been injured, according to the daily balance of the Afghan Ministry of Defense.

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The capture of Ghazni, in the southwest, is vital because it increases the chances of reaching Kabul. This locality is key because it connects with the highway that connects the capital with Kandahar, which means that the fundamentalists control the main strategic accesses from the north and the south after the fall of the city of Pul-e Khumri two days ago. “Ghazni has fallen this morning [jueves] and the security forces withdrew from most of the city, ”announced Amanullah Kamrani, deputy head of the Provincial Council of that city. The Taliban entered the city from various directions and took over most of the government buildings, such as the governor’s house and the police headquarters.

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The conquest of Herat is not minor. The city is one of the main commercial centers and hubs of Afghanistan, sharing a border with Iran and Turkmenistan. The Spanish troops were at the Herat base for 14 years, until 2015, when they closed the mission.

Qala-i-Naw also fell into the hands of the Taliban yesterday and “most of the security forces withdrew to the provincial army base,” said a deputy for Badghis in the lower house of the national Parliament, who requested anonymity, reports Efe.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Wednesday paid a whirlwind visit to Mazar-i-Sharif, the great northern city besieged by the Taliban, to try to coordinate a response to halt the advance of the guerrillas, which already control more than a quarter. from the provincial capitals. That same night, a new head of the armed forces, General Hibatullah Alizia, assumed command of the government troops.

Kabul has not yet been directly threatened by the Taliban advance, but the unexpected speed of the offensive, which has accelerated in the past two weeks, raises questions about whether and for how long the Afghan government will be able to control the situation. Washington not only estimates that the Taliban could take Kabul within 90 days, but the city may be isolated much sooner, within the next 30 to 60 days.

Despite this, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, has stressed that he will not stop the withdrawal of his troops. The spokesman for the US Department of Defense, John Kirby, limited himself to yesterday acknowledging the “deterioration of the situation.” On the other hand, he reiterated Biden’s call to local authorities to confront the Taliban offensive. “We have worked hard to improve the competence and capacity [de las fuerzas de seguridad] afghans in the field [de batalla], but at some point the competence and the capacity must be a matter of the Afghans themselves ”, he stressed.

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Meanwhile, the conflict is already causing an exodus of people fleeing the fighting and the Taliban.

The UN estimates that since the beginning of the year almost 390,000 people have been displaced by violence. Thousands of Afghans have arrived in Kabul these days, while others try to seek refuge in Pakistan.

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