Afghan Taliban has taken Herat, the third largest city in Afghanistan, local authorities said. It is already the 11th capital of the province that has fallen into the hands of Islamic militants in the last six days. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US would temporarily send additional troops to Afghanistan to evacuate some of the Embassy employees in Kabul. The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, called on the Afghan Taliban to return to talks immediately and stop violence.
According to the AFP agency, the government forces, without resisting, left the city “to prevent further damage” and retreated to a military base in the neighboring town of Guzara.
Herat – located in the west of Afghanistan and 150 km from the border with Iran – is the capital of the province of the same name, as well as an important trade and communication center in the country, the third largest Afghan city, inhabited by less than a million people.
Herat had been under the siege of the Taliban for several weeks, and fierce fighting took place on its outskirts. – The enemy has fled (…) Dozens of military vehicles, weapons and ammunition fell into our hands – said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid after the conquest of the city.
Before that, the Taliban had taken over almost the entire province of Herat, including the most important border crossing with Iran, Islam Kala.
On Thursday morning, they took over the city of Ghazni, the capital of the province of the same name in eastern Afghanistan.
Ghazni is the closest regional capital to Kabul, the capital that the Taliban captured since the start of the offensive in May, when the final withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan began.
In less than a week, the Taliban seized control of 11 of the 34 capital cities of Afghan provinces, including seven in the north of the country, which has so far been considered the most peaceful and safe part of the country, with a small number of Taliban and residents strongly opposing the presence of Islamic militants.
The Pentagon will send troops to Afghanistan to evacuate some of the embassy staff
US State Department spokesman Ned Price announced that the US would temporarily send additional troops to Afghanistan to evacuate some of the Embassy employees in Kabul. The evacuation of US Afghan associates will also be accelerated.
Price announced at a press conference that the soldiers’ mission would be temporary and that the US embassy would remain open, though only the most essential staff would remain there.
– I want to be very clear: the embassy will remain open and we plan to continue diplomatic work in Afghanistan – said the spokesman. As he added, the case was the subject of talks between the heads of diplomacy and the Pentagon with the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
He also announced that the US would continue to conduct anti-terrorist operations in the country.
Price also announced an acceleration in the transport of Afghan interpreters and other US military assistants who are eligible for special visas. On Thursday alone, 1,200 Afghans were deported from the country in this way, and further flights, including to the Fort Lee military base in Virginia, will take place every day.
The deployment of additional US troops will be necessary due to the almost completed process of withdrawing troops from the country, as well as the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country related to the Taliban offensive.
Price has expressed deep concern about the progress of the Taliban and the increase in violence. He also reiterated that any force that would take power in Afghanistan by force would not be legitimate and would not be recognized by the international community.
Josep Borrell calls on the Taliban to stop the violence
The events in Afghanistan were also referred to by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, on Thursday urging the Afghan Taliban to immediately return to talks and stop violence.
– The ongoing military offensive by the Taliban is in direct contradiction to their declared respect for the negotiated agreement and the peace process. The European Union condemns the increasing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, particularly in Taliban-controlled cities, Borrell said.
He called on the militants to “resume substantive, regular and structured discussions immediately” as well as “end violence immediately” and implement a “permanent ceasefire”.
“These continuous attacks are causing unacceptable suffering to Afghan citizens and increasing the number of internally displaced people and people leaving Afghanistan in search of security,” the head of EU diplomacy noted.
Main photo source: NAWID TANHA / PAP / EPA