The Taliban seized a district in southern Afghanistan Friday without facing any resistance from Afghan government security forces, bringing to seven the number of districts the insurgents have overrun since the United States and its NATO allies began withdrawing their troops from the country a month ago.
Separately, an overnight roadside bombing of a vehicle in the national capital, Kabul, killed a young female Afghan television anchor and her mother, and wounded her sister. Mina Khairi was working for the Ariana News channel for the past three years, her employer said.
The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee said, “AJSC is deeply saddened to hear Mina Khairi, TV presenter at Ariana News and her mother are among the victims of yesterday's blast in district 6 of Kabul city. We strongly condemn the attack & call on the government to seriously investigate the case.”
Sharif Hassanyar, the head of Ariana news, said in a video statement: ‘While we are deeply saddened by the loss of Mena Khairi, Ariana News will not back away from freedom of the press and will continue its work for the freedom of the press in Afghanistan.” He says freedom of the press is a red line for his channel.
Afghan Second Vice President Sarwar Danish said Friday the security agencies and those directly responsible for providing security in the government are obliged to act as soon as possible and be accountable for the repeated killings and “genocides” west of Kabul city.
The Thursday night blast killed a total of four people and injured several others, including Khairi’s sister. There were no immediate claims of responsibility.
A security official in southern Zabul province told VOA on condition of anonymity that Taliban fighters entered the embattled Shinkay district early Friday morning after government forces retreated from there to a nearby Afghan National Army base.
Provincial police chief Gen. Mohammad Wait Samemi would not confirm the alleged retreat, telling VOA that Afghan forces were still inside the district and fighting was ongoing.
Taliban spokesman Yousaf Ahmadi said in a statement its fighters also captured security personnel, but he would not say how many, nor could his claim immediately be verified from independent sources.
Pro-insurgent social media outlets published photos of the Shinkay district center, with Taliban fighters marching in the streets.
Deadly clashes continued elsewhere in Afghanistan amid concerns the foreign military drawdown would fuel chaos and violence.
U.S. President Joe Biden directed the remaining about 2,500 American and roughly 7,000 NATO troops in mid-April to leave the country by September 11. The decision stemmed from the February 2020 agreement Washington negotiated with the Taliban to end the U.S. involvement in nearly 20 years of Afghan war.
The U.S. military announced earlier this week that almost half of its troops and equipment had been sent home or destroyed since the drawdown formally began on May 1.
Friday’s insurgent advances came a day after the United Nations warned that the Taliban appeared poised to take by force what they do not get through negotiations once foreign troops complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The U.N. sanctions monitoring team for Afghanistan issued its assessment Thursday, noting the Taliban are still technically in compliance with the terms of their agreement with the United States.
But the insurgents, it said, have tightened their grip on power, exercising direct control over more than half of the country's district administrative centers, while contesting or controlling up to 70% of Afghan territory outside of urban areas.
"Taliban rhetoric and reports of active Taliban preparations for the spring fighting season indicate the group is likely to increase military operations for 2021, whether or not a spring offensive is announced," the U.N. report said.
The U.S.-Taliban pact also opened direct peace talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government in Qatar last September, but the process mostly has stalled.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored Friday the need for both of the Afghan adversaries to engage in productive talks.
“We urge Afghan leaders and the Taliban to accelerate progress toward a negotiated political settlement and permanent and comprehensive cease-fire to bring an end to over 40 years of conflict and create the conditions that will allow refugees to return to their homes safely,” Blinken said.
He also announced more than $266 million in new humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, bringing total U.S. humanitarian aid to the country to nearly $3.9 billion since 2002. The assistance will help international humanitarian partners of the U.S to provide support to some of the estimated 18 million people in need in Afghanistan, including more than 4.8 million Afghans who have been internally displaced.