The Taliban have switched strategy from targeting rural areas of Afghanistan to attacking provincial cities in response to increased US airstrikes across the war-ravaged country, militant sources say.
Some media outlets quoting Taliban commanders said on Thursday that they were focused on capturing the western city of Herat, Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in the southwest, and Kandahar in the south.
"Mullah Yaqoob argued that when the US didn't fulfill their commitment why should the Taliban be made to follow the accord?" said one of the commanders, based in Kandahar, referring to the group's military chief.
"Mullah Yaqoob has decided to capture Kandahar and Herat and now Helmand and then it could be Kunduz, Khost or any other province."
The commander said, "The operations in Kandahar and Herat are very much important to us and our priority is to capture the two crucial airports or airbases in Kandahar and Herat.”
The Taliban had said previously that they would focus on lucrative border crossings and large rural areas, though they have encircled and at times entered provincial capitals.
Taliban negotiator Suhail Shaheen also said earlier that the group was continuing its policy of seizing control of rural areas rather than focusing on cities.
Experts and officials say that for now a military takeover of Kabul would be much more difficult for the Taliban than provincial capitals, but that the group could increase bombings to undermine security and public morale.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack at the acting defense minister's residence on Tuesday and warned of further violence.
Despite a peace deal between the US and group, American forces have been pounding Taliban positions. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the United States Central Command, refused late last month to comment on the future of the country’s airstrikes on the Taliban group in Afghanistan.
The US has been trying to withdraw forces from Afghanistan after two decades of occupation.
Several border crossings have been captured by the Taliban in recent weeks.
Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar, in remarks on Tuesday, blamed the Taliban group for carrying out atrocities in the town of Spin Boldak, which the militants captured last month along the border with Pakistan.
Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission earlier said the militants had indulged in revenge killings there, leaving dozens of people dead.
The Taliban in June also captured Afghanistan’s main border crossing with Tajikistan. The seizure of Shir Khan Bandar, in the far north of Afghanistan about 50km from Kunduz city, was the most significant gain for the Taliban since it stepped up operations in early May.
Russia boosts arms supplies to Central Asia
Russian military chief of staff Valery Gerasimov, who was in Tashkent to attend joint Uzbek-Russian military drills near the Afghan border, said on Thursday that Moscow had increased arms and military hardware supplies to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan amid the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan.
Russia is also carrying out drills in Tajikistan, another former Soviet republic bordering Afghanistan, this week.
For the Uzbek exercise, Moscow has said it would even deploy four strategic bombers.
The security situation in Afghanistan has rapidly deteriorated since US-led forces began a withdrawal due to be completed by September, prompting a Taliban offensive that has made significant territorial gains.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani blamed the country’s deteriorating security Monday on Washington deciding “abruptly” to withdraw its troops.
Ghani recently said that Kabul had a plan to restore stability in the country within six months despite the fast-deteriorating security situation.