ISLAMABAD – Authorities in Afghanistan imposed an indefinite night curfew in much of the country on Saturday as government forces struggle to stop the Taliban’s progress.
The Islamist insurgent group has rapidly gained a foothold on the battlefield in recent weeks, bringing it closer to the capital of all 34 Afghan provinces and the country’s capital, Kabul.
A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry told VOA that all provinces, except Kabul, Nangarhar and Panjsher provinces, were placed under curfew from 10 pm to 4 am.
Ahmed Zia Zia said, “Terrorist groups often carry out terrorist and other subversive acts late at night, so a night-time ban on public movement has been implemented to prevent violence.”
The Taliban launched a massive offensive in early May, when the United States and NATO allies began pulling their last remaining troops from Afghanistan. Since then the rebels have captured more than half of the roughly 420 Afghan districts, without fighting in many cases.
As of last week, the US military said 95% of its withdrawal was complete and the process was on track to be finished by the end of next month.
Sharp attacks by the Taliban have forced the US military to launch airstrikes in recent days to enable Afghan security forces to halt insurgent advances.
To reach peace deal, Taliban says Afghan president must go
The Taliban have increasingly seized territory in recent weeks, taking over strategic border crossings and threatening several provincial capitals, as the last US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan
The Afghan government has blamed the loss on the battlefield since May on a lack of US air support for security forces on the ground.
The Taliban denounced the latest US air strikes as a violation of the group’s February 2020 agreement with Washington, which paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces after nearly 20 years of war in Afghanistan.
“This is a clear violation of the signed agreement that will have consequences,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned in a statement.
US officials have called the Taliban attacks a violation of the Islamic group’s agreement to support a peacefully negotiated solution to the conflict, as outlined in the same February 2020 agreement.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday that about 212 district centers are currently in Taliban hands and rebel forces are advancing on the outskirts of 17 provincial capitals.
“There seems to be a strategic momentum with the Taliban,” Milley told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon.
“What they are trying to do is isolate the major population centres,” he said. “They are trying to do the same with Kabul, and broadly speaking … a significant amount of territory has been confiscated.”
As usual, Afghan fighting has largely subsided during this week’s three-day Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which ended on Thursday.
But both sides have resumed attacks against each other.
Afghan Defense Ministry officials claimed on Saturday that security forces killed nearly 300 rebel fighters in several provinces in the past 24 hours, though Taliban and government officials regularly offer battlefield claims.
US President Joe Biden on Friday assured his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani of Washington’s diplomatic and humanitarian support.
A White House statement said the two leaders in a phone call “agreed that the current Taliban offensive is in direct contradiction to the movement’s claim of supporting a negotiated settlement of the conflict.”
Biden told Ghani that his administration would remain diplomatically engaged “in support of a sustainable and just political solution” to the Afghan war.
The US State Department noted on Friday that the ongoing violence in Afghanistan was largely driven by the Taliban and called for an immediate end to it.
Chief Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters in Washington: “We call on the Taliban to engage in serious dialogue to set a political roadmap for the future of Afghanistan that leads to a just and sustainable solution.” “