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Taliban capture key district in southern Afghan province of Kandahar

An internally displaced family flees towards the city in Panjwai district of Kandahar province, on July 4, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

The Taliban have captured another key district after fierce fighting with Afghan government forces in the former militant stronghold of Kandahar, local officials say. 

Hasti Mohammad, Panjwai district governor said Afghan forces and the Taliban clashed during the night, resulting in the government forces retreating from Panjwai district in the southern province of Kandahar on Sunday.

"The Taliban have captured the district police headquarters and governor's office building," he said.

Kandahar provincial council head, Sayed Jan Khakriwal, has accused the government forces of "intentionally withdrawing" from the district.

Scores of families of Panjwai fled their homes after the Taliban captured the district.

"The Taliban fired on our car as I was fleeing with my family. At least five bullets hit my car," Giran, a resident of Panjwai was quoted as saying.

Assadullah, a commander of border police in the area, said that the Taliban were firing on fleeing citizens.

"The Taliban are on top of the mountains and firing at any moving vehicles. The Taliban don't want peace," he said, adding, "The army and the commandos who have better military equipment are not fighting at all."

Panjwai is the fifth district in Kandahar province to have fallen to the militants in recent weeks.

In recent years, the Taliban and Afghan forces have regularly clashed in and around Panjwai, with the militants aiming to seize it given its proximity to Kandahar city, the provincial capital.

The Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada also hails from Panjwai.

Later on Sunday, the secretary of Kandahar's governor was killed when a bomb attached to his car blew up near their office compound.

Fighting was also intensifying between the government forces and the Taliban in the northeastern province of Badakshan, which borders Tajikistan.

Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security said in a statement Sunday that over 300 Afghan military personnel crossed from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province as the Taliban fighters advanced towards the border. 

The Afghan troops crossed over at about 6:30pm local time on Saturday.

The Taliban have pressed ahead with their campaign to capture territory across Afghanistan's rural areas since early May.

Fighting has raged across several provinces of Afghanistan and the Taliban claim to have seized more than 100 out of nearly 400 districts in the country.

Some observers are concerned that the Taliban may go on to topple the Afghan government.

The militant group’s advances come as US and other US-led NATO troops prepare to leave Afghanistan after two decades of war and occupation.

US President Joe Biden announced in April that all American troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that Washington used as a pretext to invade and occupy the country despite the fact that no Afghan national was involved in the attacks.

Five years of ruling Afghanistan by the Taliban came to an end following the US-led invasion of the country in 2001. The militant group was removed, but not incapacitated and Afghanistan continues to be ravaged by persistent attacks.

Thousands of Afghan civilians have lost their lives over the past two decades of conflict, with Washington having spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the war on Afghanistan.

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