Afghanistan: Taliban seize provincial capitals
Taliban forces dramatically stepped up their rapid advance across Afghanistan over the past days, seizing 11 capitals of the country's 34 provinces. First, on Aug. 6, Zaranj, capital of Nimruz province in the southern Taliban heartland, fell to the insurgents. But then they switched the offensive to the north, taking Sheberghan, Jawzjan province; Sar-e-Pul and Kunduz, of their respective eponymous provinces; Taluqan, Takhar province; Aybak, Samangan province; Farah, Farah province; Pul-e-Khumri, Baghlan province; and Faizabad, Badakhshan province. Herat and Ghazni, a strategic southern gateway to the national capital Kabul, were the most recent to fall, on Aug. 12. The northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif is besieged, and India's military is mobilizing an airlift to evacuate the country's nationals there. Kandahar, back in the Taliban's southern heartland, is also the scene of heavy fighting, as is Lashkar Gah, capital of adjoining province of that name.
Disturbing reports of Taliban violence against communities now under their control were condemned by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who on issued an urgent call for a return to peace negotiations in Doha. The High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement that there is "fear and dread" across Afghanistan. Women have been flogged and killed in areas overrun by the Taliban, while journalists and human rights defenders had also been attacked and slain.
Reports of violations that "could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity" have emerged, including "deeply disturbing reports" of the summary execution of surrendering government troops. Thousands of civilians are fleeing toward Kabul ahead of the Taliban advance. More than 359,000 Afghans have been displaced this year, bringing the total internally displaced in the country to over 5 million. (Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, Reuters, CNN, LiveMint, UN News)