KABUL: Taliban tightened their grip on captured Afghan territory on Tuesday as civilians hid in their homes, with an EU official saying the militants now controlled 65% of the country after a string of sudden gains as foreign forces pull out.
President Ashraf Ghani called on regional strongmen to support his government. In the capital Kabul, Ghani’s aides said he was seeking help from regional militias he has squabbled with over the years to rally to the defence of his government. He had also appealed to civilians to defend Afghanistan’s “democratic fabric”.
In the town of Aibak, capital of Samangan province on the main road between the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, Taliban fighters were consolidating their control, moving into government buildings, residents said.
Most government security forces appeared to have withdrawn.
“The only way is self-imposed house arrest or to find a way to leave for Kabul,” said Sher Mohamed Abbas, a provincial tax officer, when asked about living conditions in Aibak.
“But then even Kabul is not a safe option anymore,” said Abbas, the sole bread winner for a family of nine.
Abbas said the Taliban had arrived at his office and told workers to go home. He and other residents said they had neither seen nor heard fighting on Tuesday.
For years, the north was the most peaceful part of the country with an only minimal Taliban presence.
The militants’ strategy appears to be to take the north, as well as the main border crossings in the north, west and south, and then close in on Kabul.
The Taliban, battling to defeat the US-backed government and reimpose Islamic law, swept into Aibak on Monday meeting little resistance.
Taliban forces now control 65% of Afghan territory, are threatening to take 11 provincial capitals and are trying to deprive Kabul of its traditional support from national forces in the north, a senior EU official said on Tuesday.
The government has withdrawn forces from hard-to-defend rural districts to focus on holding major population centres.
The United States has been carrying out air strikes in support of government troops but said it was up to Afghan forces to defend their country. “It’s their struggle,” John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters on Monday.
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