Afghan leader rallies forces in Taliban-besieged northern city

Meanwhile, the Afghan interior minister says gov’t arming local groups as part of plan to fight back against the Taliban.

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers patrol the area near a checkpoint recaptured from the Taliban, in the Alishing district of Laghman province, Afghanistan [File: Parwiz/Reuters]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani returned to the capital Wednesday after a flying visit to the besieged northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif to rally his beleaguered forces, with Taliban fighters having now taken more than a quarter of the country’s provincial capitals in less than a week.

A US defence official said on Wednesday that Taliban fighters could take over Kabul in 90 days.

Meanwhile, the Afghan interior minister has told Al Jazeera that Afghanistan is arming local groups as part of a wider three-phase plan to fight back against the Taliban’s advances, as the armed group has seized nine provincial capitals since Friday.

The minister said Afghan forces were focusing on trying to secure large cities, main highways and border crossings.

The Taliban has already gained vast parts of rural Afghanistan since launching a series of offensives in May to coincide with the start of the final withdrawal of US-led foreign forces after a 20-year presence.

The developments on Wednesday:

Afghan leader rallies forces in besieged Mazar-i-Sharif

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani returned to the capital after a flying visit to the besieged northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif to rally his beleaguered forces, with Taliban fighters having now taken more than a quarter of the country’s provincial capitals in less than a week.

In Mazar, Ghani held talks with long-time local strongman Atta Mohammad Noor and infamous warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum about the defence of the city, as Taliban fighters inched closer to its outskirts.

The loss of Mazar would be a catastrophic blow to the Kabul government and represent the complete collapse of its control over the north – long a bastion of anti-Taliban militias.

Erdogan says he could meet with Taliban leader

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said that he could meet with the leader of the Taliban as part of efforts to end the fighting in Afghanistan.

“The latest developments and the situation of the Afghan public are really, really troubling,” Erdogan said during a televised interview with CNN Turk.

“Maybe I will even be in a position to receive the person who is their leader.”

US standing by Afghanistan exit timeline: White House

The United States is standing by its timeline for troops to exit Afghanistan despite the Taliban’s military gains, the White House said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the timeline holds and reiterated the administration’s view that Afghan forces have the US support they need to fight back.

The Afghans “need to determine … if they have the political will to fight back and if they have the ability to unite as leaders to fight back,” she said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Taliban won’t talk peace unless Ghani goes: Pakistan PM

Taliban leaders have said they will not negotiate with the Afghan government as long as Ashraf Ghani remains president, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said.

With peace talks stalled, violence in Afghanistan has escalated spiked sharply as the armed group makes rapid territorial gains. A US defence official said on Wednesday that Taliban fighters could take over Kabul in 90 days.

Khan said a political settlement was looking difficult under current conditions.

“I tried to persuade the Taliban … three to four months back when the Taliban senior leadership came here,” Khan told foreign journalists at his home in Islamabad.

“The condition is that as long as Ashraf Ghani is there, we (Taliban) are not going to talk to the Afghan government,” Khan said, quoting the Taliban leaders as telling him.

Afghanistan interior minister reveals plan to push back Taliban

Afghanistan’s government is arming local groups as part of a three-phase plan to push back the Taliban offensive, the Afghan interior minister tells Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview.

Afghanistan Interior Minister General Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal said on Wednesday that Afghan forces are also focusing on trying to secure main highways, large cities and border crossings, after the Taliban seized nine provincial capitals in under a week.

Read more here.

Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint recaptured from the Taliban, in the Alishing district of Laghman province [File: Parwiz/Reuters]

‘Stop the brutality,’ Afghan minister tells Taliban

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Afghan Interior Minister General Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal asked the Taliban to “stop their brutality” as the group makes territorial gains across the country.

“Leave the killing, sit down with love and we should find solutions. I’m asking them not to destroy buildings, or our achievements,” he told Al Jazeera.

Mirzakwal said a lot of the government’s losses are a result of them losing control of roads and highways. Many areas must be resupplied by air and after the US withdrawal, a lot of that capability was lost.

“Unfortunately with their withdrawal, the fighting started in 400 areas of the country. We have very limited air support. The helicopters have been busy with moving supplies and evacuating our dead and injured forces,” he added.

Halting deportations will ‘send wrong message’: Greece

The European Union is no position to deal with a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis and must try to keep people from fleeing conflict in Afghanistan, Greece said on Wednesday, as unity between EU member states about deportations crumbled.

Greece, which last week co-signed a letter with five other EU countries saying deportations of failed asylum seekers should continue despite the fighting, said ending such returns “would send the wrong message”.

“It would lead to more people trying to leave and come to the European Union,” Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi told the Reuters news agency.

Fears of a new refugee crisis have escalated as Taliban fighters have made sudden, strong gains in their campaign to defeat the Kabul government [File: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Photo]

‘Lack of clarity’ at Doha talks: Al Jazeera correspondent

There has been “a lot of lack of clarity throughout the day” about the agenda for day two of the talks in Qatar between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Al Jazeera correspondent Mohammed Jamjoom said, reporting from Doha.

“I can tell you there is a sense of urgency amongst all the diplomats that we’ve been speaking with. And while many of them are loathe to speak on camera or on the record, they have conveyed repeatedly that they want to try to find some sort of joint solution for the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan,” he added.

Turkey still eager to run Kabul airport despite Taliban advances, officials say

Turkey is for now still intent on running and guarding Kabul airport after other foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan, but is monitoring the situation after rapid advances by Taliban forces, two Turkish officials said.

The Taliban have warned Turkey against keeping troops in Afghanistan to guard the airport but Ankara has maintained its stance.

Turkey has offered to deploy troops at Kabul airport after NATO withdraws and has held talks with the United States for weeks [File: S Sabawoon/EPA]

Pakistan ‘engaging all stakeholders’: Foreign minister

Pakistan’s foreign minister on Wednesday told reporters that his country will continue to play its role to facilitate the Afghan peace process as the Taliban gains more ground in Afghanistan.

“Our delegation is in Doha right now,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi said, referring to continuing talks hosted by Qatar.

Qureshi said Pakistani officials there are “engaging with all stakeholders for the promotion of peace and stability in Afghanistan”.

Germany, Netherlands suspend deportations to Afghanistan

Germany and the Netherlands have suspended any deportations of people to Afghanistan as the security situation in the war-torn country worsens.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer ordered the suspension “for the time being,” spokesman Steve Alter said Wednesday. Earlier, Alter said that almost 30,000 Afghans in Germany are currently required to leave the country.

In the Netherlands, Justice State Secretary Ankie Broekers-Knol wrote to parliament that changes in Afghanistan were so unpredictable “that a decision was taken to impose a departure moratorium.”

She said the decision was justified by “the worsening situation and the possibility to wait for a decision until there is a more stable assessment of the situation”.

Afghan refugee
Since 2016, more than 1,000 Afghans who unsuccessfully applied for asylum in Germany returned back, according to local media [File: Thomas Peter/Reurers]

Taliban could take Kabul in 90 days: US intelligence

Taliban fighters could isolate Afghanistan’s capital in 30 days and possibly take it over in 90, a US defence official tells the Reuters news agency, citing US intelligence.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that the new assessment of how long Kabul could stand is a result of the rapid gains the Taliban had been making around the country as US-led foreign forces leave.

“But this is not a foregone conclusion,” the official adds, saying that the Afghan security forces could reverse the momentum by putting up more resistance.

Afghanistan sees shake up in military leadership

Officials in Afghanistan have confirmed several shake-ups in the top military leadership of the country, Al Jazeera’s Ali M Latifi reports from Kabul.

General Haibatullah Alizai has been named the chief of staff of the army, replacing General Wali Ahmadzai who had been in the position a few months.

Additionally, Sami Sadat has been named the commander for the special operations corps.

Sadat had previously taken the lead in the fight to defend Helmand.

#SanctionPakistan trending as violence rages in Afghanistan

As violence from a Taliban offensive on government-held areas surges in Afghanistan, the use of the Twitter hashtag #SanctionPakistan by thousands has shown the antipathy many Afghans hold for the perceived role of the country’s eastern neighbour.

As of Wednesday, the hashtag had been used more than 730,000 times, with at least 37 percent of those tweets tagged as originating in Afghanistan, according to data from the social media insight company, Talkwalker.

Read more here.

At least 47 casualties in Kandahar as fighting intensifies

At least 47 casualties, including a woman, children and police, are brought to the Mirwais regional hospital in Kandahar as fighting in the city intensifies, Al Jazeera’s Ali M Latifi reports from Kabul.

The figures provided by the hospital did not break down the number of dead or injured.

Residents in Afghanistan’s second-largest city say that fighting has moved closer to the hospital itself, which is in the centre of the city as the Taliban continue to try to take control of the city centre.

Germany says deporting Afghan asylum seekers still possible

Germany still believes it should be possible to deport Afghan asylum seekers despite significant advances of Taliban fighters in their country, an interior ministry spokesperson says, adding cases are handled on individual merit.

Speaking at a regular German government briefing, a foreign ministry spokesperson notes that the situation in Afghanistan is changing very quickly.

The comments come after six European Union member states – including Germany – warn the bloc’s executive on Tuesday against halting deportations of rejected Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Europe.

Afghanistan’s leaders must ‘fight for themselves, nation’: Biden

US President Joe Biden has urged Afghanistan’s leaders to fight for their homeland as the Taliban armed group tightens its grip on the country’s territory.

“Afghan leaders have to come together,” Biden tells reporters at the White House, adding the Afghan troops outnumber the Taliban and must want to fight.

Read more here.

Taliban fighter, centre, is seen surrounded by locals at Pul-e-Khumri [Stringer/AFP]

Timeline: Afghanistan provincial capitals captured by Taliban

Taliban fighters have made rapid advances across Afghanistan in recent months as the United States and other foreign forces withdraw from the nation 20 years after they invaded.

Here are the provincial capitals that have fallen to or are being attacked by the armed group, which is fighting to reimpose its rule after its government was toppled in 2001.

Read more here.

Afghan finance minister quits, leaves country

Khalid Payenda, Afghanistan’s acting finance minister, has resigned and left the country after the Taliban captured key customs posts bleeding the administration of revenue, according to Bloomberg media network.

Payenda has “resigned and left the country because Afghanistan is grappling with declining revenues after the takeover of the custom posts”, finance ministry spokesman Mohammad Rafi Tabe tells Bloomberg.

Taliban fighters are seen inside the city of Farah, capital of Farah province [Mohammad Asif Khan/AP]

“The deteriorating security situation” and travelling to be with his ailing wife abroad, were the other reasons Tabe gave.

It was not immediately clear to where Payenda was going.

The former minister tweeted on Tuesday to say he was quitting his post but gave no reasons for it.

‘Hundreds’ of soldiers surrender near Kunduz: lawmaker

Hundreds of Afghan soldiers who retreated to the airport outside Kunduz after the Taliban captured the northern city at the weekend have surrendered, a local lawmaker tells the AFP news agency.

Amruddin Wali, a member of the Kunduz provincial council, says soldiers, police and uprising forces “surrendered to the Taliban with all their military gear”.

Taliban in control of Kunduz airport: local sources

Local sources in Kunduz confirm Taliban reports that they have taken the provincial airport and that members of the Afghan National Security Forces have surrendered to the group, Al Jazeera’s Ali M Latifi reports from Kabul.

“Since the province fell on Sunday, the airport had been the only part of the province that the Taliban had not yet taken control of,” he says.

Taliban seizes Afghan borders with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan: Russia

Taliban fighters have taken control of Afghanistan’s borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as they continue their rapid offensive, Russia’s defence minister has said.

Sergei Shoigu told a youth conference in Moscow on Tuesday that the group’s leaders had promised not to attack neighbouring countries after making its territorial gains, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

Read more here.

Uncertainty dominates second day of Doha talks

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from Doha, says it is so far unclear what the agenda is on the second day of Afghanistan talks held in the Qatari capital.

“At the end last night, after a long day of talks some of the diplomats in attendance indicated that perhaps today there might be a meeting of the extended Troika countries – that’s Russia, the US, China and Pakistan – on the sidelines of these international meeting regarding peace in Afghanistan,” he says.

Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Farah, the capital of Farah province [Mohammad Asif Khan/AP]

“The extended Troika that is a Moscow-initiated group that meets and consults on ways to try and support inter-Afghan peace talks.”

He also says that it is hard to say if the meeting actually happens, because Russia did not attend the first day of talks.

“It was unclear why they didn’t show up, but it is expected that it will play a part today,” he says.

Taliban claim firing rockets into Bagram airbase

The Taliban claim to have fired rockets into the Bagram airbase located north of Kabul.

An official at the airbase has said the rockets did not reach the base, landing instead in far off areas, according to Al Jazeera’s Ali M Latifi, reporting from Kabul.

Ninth Afghan provincial capital falls to Taliban

Badakhshan province’s capital Faizabad is the latest to fall to the Taliban.

Zabihullah Attiq, a local lawmaker, tells the AFP news agency that security forces had retreated from the city after days of heavy clashes.

“The Taliban have captured the city now,” he says.

Three more provincial capitals fall to Taliban: Officials

Afghan officials say three more provincial capitals have fallen to the Taliban since Tuesday, putting nine of the country’s 34 in the armed group’s hands amid the US withdrawal.

The officials tells The Associated Press that the capitals of Badakhshan, Baghlan and Farah provinces all fell – Faizabad, Pul-e-Khumri and Farah city respectively.

The Afghan government and military did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

President Ghani flies into Mazar-i-Sharif

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani flies to the besieged northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif to rally his beleaguered forces, with Taliban fighters having now taken more than a quarter of the country’s provincial capitals in less than a week.

He plans “to check the general security in the northern zone”, according to a statement released by the palace.

The Afghan leader is also likely to hold talks with Mazar-i-Sharif’s longtime strongman Atta Mohammad Noor and infamous militia leader Abdul Rashid Dostum about the defence of the city as Taliban fighters inch closer to its outskirts.

The loss of Mazar-i-Sharif would be a catastrophic blow to the Kabul government and represent the complete collapse of its control over the north – long a bastion of anti-Taliban militias.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies