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Afghanistan’s President Ghani reshuffles cabinet amid surge in violence

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has ordered a shake-up of two ministries charged with managing national security against the backdrop of an intensification of attacks by the Taliban to capture more territories.

The president’s office said in a statement on Saturday that Ghani had appointed General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi as the new defense minister. General Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal was appointed interior minister.

Mohammadi has previously served as the defense and interior minister as well as the chief of army staff after the fall of the Taliban following a US-led invasion in 2001.

The new defense minister replaces Asadullah Khalid, who has repeatedly flown out of the country for treatment to wounds suffered after an assassination attempt in 2012.

Meanwhile, the Taliban claim to have seized more than 40 districts since early May, forcing military leaders to strategically retreat from a number of rural districts.

The group has intensified attacks to seize territories since the United States missed a deadline for the withdrawal of its troops it had agreed with the Taliban in Qatar last year.

All foreign troops were supposed to have been withdrawn by May 1, but US President Joe Biden pushed that date back to September 11. The decision caused intra-Afghan peace talks — between the Taliban and Kabul — to be suspended.

The Taliban warned that the passing of the May 1 deadline for a complete withdrawal “opened the way for” the militants to take every counteraction they deemed appropriate against foreign forces in the country.

The militants are now present in almost every province and are encircling several major cities.

The Afghan Defense Ministry acknowledged on Saturday that that government troops had retreated from several districts.

“There is a new, robust and effective plan to retake areas from which we have pulled back our forces," ministry spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai said.

He dismissed claims that hundreds of soldiers had surrendered to the Taliban.

Afghanistan is also facing a wave of assassinations, many of which are targeting government employees, health workers, media and civil society members.

Many have warned that the withdrawal of all forces could intensify violence in the absence of a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

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