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Taliban capture key district ‘Kandahar’, Afghan forces flee

The Taliban’s march through northern Afghanistan gained momentum overnight with the capture of Khandhar district from fleeing Afghan forces, several hundred of whom fled across the border into Tajikistan, officials said.

The fall of the Panjwai district in the southern province of Kandahar comes just two days after US and NATO forces vacated their main Bagram airbase near Kabul, from where they led operations for 20 years against the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies.

More than 300 Afghan military personnel crossed from Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province as Taliban fighters advanced towards the border, Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security said in a statement on Sunday. The Afghan troops crossed over at about 6:30pm local time on Saturday.

“Guided by the principles of humanism and good neighbourliness,” the Tajik authorities allowed the retreating Afghan government forces to cross into Tajikistan, said the statement.

The Taliban now controls roughly a third of all 421 districts and district centres in Afghanistan.

Gains in northeastern Badakhshan province in recent days have mostly come to the armed group without a battle, said Mohib-ul Rahman, a provincial council member. He blamed Taliban successes on the poor morale of troops who are mostly outnumbered and lacking supplies.

“Unfortunately, the majority of the districts were left to Taliban without any fight,” said Rahman. In the last three days, 10 districts fell to Taliban, eight without a fight, he said.

Hundreds of Afghan soldiers, police and intelligence troops surrendered their military outposts and fled to the Badakhshan provincial capital of Faizabad, said Rahman.

The province of Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban, which went on to rule Afghanistan until being overthrown by a US-led invasion in 2001.

Panjwai district Governor Hasti Mohammad said Afghan forces and the Taliban clashed during the night, resulting in government forces retreating from the area.

“The Taliban have captured the district police headquarters and governor’s office building,” he told the AFP news agency.

Kandahar provincial council head Sayed Jan Khakriwal confirmed the fall of Panjwai, but accused government forces of “intentionally withdrawing”

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