Six hundred UK paratroopers will be sent to Afghanistan to get Brits out alongside 3,000 US soldiers evacuating Americans as rampant Taliban take both Lashkar Gar and Kandahar
The British Government has said the troops will support the evacuation of Brits and former Afghan staff
The United States is also sending troops to help evacuate its citizens as the Taliban continue to gain ground
Taliban have captured Afghanistan’s Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern province of Helmand, on Friday
Second city Kandahar and strategically important Herat both captured by the Taliban after bombardment
Taliban flag was seen flying over the city’s police HQ, while the group said it had seized weapons and vehicles
Taliban sweeping across Afghanistan, capturing swathes of territory as isolated government troops surrender
But US warns the Islamists may be executing some of those who surrendered, in what would be a war crime
Video recorded last month did appear to show Taliban fighters gunning down 22 surrendering commandos
News emerged as Afghan government said it had offered the Taliban a power-sharing deal that would see the jihadists join the government in return for stopping the fighting
The US has ordered all citizens to leave as soon as possible due to ‘security conditions’ within the country
The British Government has said it will be sending 600 troops to Afghanistan to help British nationals flee as the Taliban continue to seize territory around the country, with Kandahar and Lashkar Gah – the capital of the southern province of Helmand – the latest to fall to the insurgency.
‘I have authorised the deployment of additional military personnel to support the diplomatic presence in Kabul, assist British nationals to leave the country and support the relocation of former Afghan staff who risked their lives serving alongside us,’ Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.
Wallace described the deployment was a ‘pre-planned phase’ to ‘enable the next step of leaving’.
However, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) appeared to contradict this, saying that the additional deployment was ‘in light of the increasing violence and rapidly deteriorating security environment in the country’.
Speaking on Friday morning, Wallace said was worried that Afghanistan was spiralling towards a failed state that could become a breeding ground for militants such as al Qaeda which would probably come back.
‘I’m absolutely worried that failed states are breeding grounds for those types of people,’ the Defence Secretary told Sky. ‘al Qaeda will probably come back.’
Wallace said the West had to understand that it could not instantly fix countries such as Afghanistan but should manage situations.
He said that Afghanistan’s second biggest city of Kandahar and the town of Lashkar Gah was ‘pretty much now in the hands of the Taliban.’
Some 4,000 British nationals are estimated to still be in Afghanistan, according to the Foreign Office. The Sun reported that only a skeleton staff, including ambassador Sir Laurie Bristow, will remain in Kabul.
Troops will aim to secure the city’s airport, where both the UK and US embassy will be relocated to, the paper reported.
The announcement from the Government came shortly before the Taliban captured Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern province of Helmand, after two weeks of heavy fighting, according to a police official on Friday.
Government and senior armed forces officials flew by helicopter out of the government’s last stronghold in the city at about midnight on Thursday ahead of the capture, said the official, who declined to be identified.
‘About 200 ANDSF members, who were left in the governor’s compound, with the intervention of elders, surrendered to the Taliban,’ said the official, referring to members of the national defence and security forces and tribal elders.
The fall of Lashkar Gah comes after Afghanistan‘s second and third biggest cites, Kandahar and Herat, fell on Thursday – further squeezing the country’s embattled government just weeks before the end of the American military mission there.
The seizure of Kandahar and Herat marks the biggest prizes yet for the Taliban, who have taken 12 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals as part of a week-long blitz.
While Kabul itself isn’t directly under threat yet, the losses and the battles elsewhere further tighten the grip of a resurgent Taliban estimated to now hold some two-thirds of the nation.
The United States said on Thursday it will also send 3,000 troops to evacuate nationals from Kabul, as a rapid Taliban advance across Afghanistan saw more than a third of the country’s provincial capitals fall in a week.
In this picture taken on August 13, 2021, Taliban fighters stand on a vehicle along the roadside in Herat. The British Government has said it will be sending 600 troops to Afghanistan to help British nationals flee the country
Pictured: Taliban fighters are pictured in a vehicle along the roadside in Herat, Afghanistan’s third biggest city, on Friday
The seizure of Herat – a strategic provincial capital near Kabul – marked the biggest prize yet for the Taliban, which has taken 11 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals as part of a weeklong blitz.
Taliban fighters rushed past the Great Mosque in the historic city – which dates to 500 BC and was once a spoil of Alexander the Great – and seized government buildings.
Witnesses described hearing sporadic gunfire at one government building while the rest of the city fell silent under the insurgents’ control.
An AFP correspondent filmed the Taliban flag flying over the police HQ in Herat, while the insurgents tweeted ‘the enemy fled… Dozens of military vehicles, weapons and ammunition fell into the hands of the Mujahideen’.
‘Right until this afternoon the situation in the city was normal,’ Herat resident Masoom Jan told AFP.
‘Late afternoon everything changed. They (the Taliban) entered the city in rush. They raised their flags in every corner of the city.
Herat had been under militant attack for two weeks, with one wave blunted by the arrival of warlord Ismail Khan and his forces. But on Thursday afternoon, Taliban fighters broke through the city’s defensive lines.
Afghan lawmaker Semin Barekzai also acknowledged the city’s fall to the Taliban, saying that some officials there had escaped.
Footage posted online showed heavily armed Taliban fighters rampaging through Herat today after they seized the strategically important third-biggest city in Afghanistan
The Taliban has captured Afghanistan’s third biggest city, Herat, further squeezing the country’s embattled government just weeks before the end of the American military mission there. Pictured: Taliban fighters pose for a photo in Ghazni on Thursday
The Taliban has now seized around two thirds of the country from the government in a little over three months
Witnesses described hearing sporadic gunfire at one government building while the rest of the city fell silent under the insurgents’ control. Pictured: A Taliban fighter poses for a photo in Ghazni on Thursday
Herat had been under militant attack for two weeks, with one wave blunted by the arrival of warlord Ismail Khan and his forces. But on Thursday afternoon, Taliban fighters broke through the city’s defensive lines. Pictured: A Taliban fighter poses for a photo in Ghazni on Thursday
News of the capture of Herat came as the United States accused the group of executing Afghan government troops who had surrendered. A Taliban flag is seen flying in a square in the city of Ghazni on Thursday
The Taliban has now seized around two thirds of the country from the government in a little over three months.
News of the capture of Herat came as the United States accused the group of executing Afghan government troops who had surrendered.
‘We’re hearing additional reports of Taliban executions of surrendering Afghan troops,’ the US embassy in Kabul tweeted on Thursday. ‘Deeply disturbing & could constitute war crimes.’
It was not immediately clear where the new reports had come from. Video taken in Faryab province last month did appear to show Taliban fighters massacring 22 Afghan commandos after they had surrendered, including the son of a prominent general.
Hundreds of government troops have surrendered to the Taliban since fighting escalated in May with the withdrawal of US troops – some without firing a shot, others after being cut off and surrounded with little or no chance of reinforcement or resupply from the government in Kabul.
In an attempt to stop the bloodletting, Afghan diplomats in Qatar said they had approached the Taliban with a deal today that would see the group included in a national unity government in return for halting the fighting.
But such talks have been stalled for years over ‘unreasonable Taliban demands to turn the country into an Islamic emirate – and there is little reason to believe they will have softened that stance after their battlefield triumphs.
In a sign of the rapidly worsening situation, the US today told all of its citizens to leave the country as soon as possible by any commercial means. It comes a week after the UK gave its citizens the same advice, and after India pulled its diplomatic staff out.
On Thursday, the US said it would send troops to assist with the evacuation of civilians.
‘We are further reducing our civilian footprint in Kabul in light of the evolving security situation,’ US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, while noting the embassy would remain open.
Price added the US would also start sending in daily flights to evacuate Afghan interpreters and others who assisted the Americans and are fearful for their lives due to the Taliban’s sweeping offensive across Afghanistan.
Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand, appears on the verge of falling to the Islamists after a huge IED explosion destroyed part of the police headquarters on Wednesday and allowed fighters to capture it
Earlier today, it was announced the jihadists had taken the city of Ghazni, located just 80 miles from Kabul and along the main highway to the south. The Taliban already controls the main highway going north, and is tightening the noose on what could soon become Ghazni’s last stronghold.
The capture of Ghazni, meanwhile, cuts off a crucial highway linking the Afghan capital with the country’s southern provinces, which similarly find themselves under assault as part of an insurgent push some 20 years after US and NATO troops invaded and ousted the Taliban government.
Thousands of people have fled their homes amid fears the Taliban will again impose a brutal, repressive government, all but eliminating women’s rights and conducting public amputations, stonings and executions. Peace talks in Qatar remain stalled, though diplomats met throughout the day.
The latest US military intelligence assessment suggests Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and that, if current trends hold, the Taliban could gain full control of the country within a few months.
The Afghan government may eventually be forced to pull back to defend the capital and just a few other cities in the coming days if the Taliban keeps up its momentum.
The onslaught represents a stunning collapse of Afghan forces and renews questions about where the over $830 billion spent by the US Defense Department on fighting, training those troops, and reconstruction efforts went – especially as Taliban fighters ride on American-made Humvees and pickup trucks with M-16s slung across their shoulders.
Afghan security forces and the government have not responded to repeated questions from journalists over the days of fighting, instead issuing video communiques that downplay the Taliban advance.
The jihadists said Lashkar Gah was briefly captured on Wednesday, but later revised to say that fighting is still ongoing and the city is not fully under their control.
A huge IED exploded near the main police headquarters yesterday, sending a plume of smoke into the sky and partially destroying the outer walls – allowing Taliban fighters to stream inside.
Multiple police officers were killed, the jihadists said, but some government troops managed to escape the slaughter and made it to the governor’s office, where they have resumed their fight.
Nasima Niazi, a lawmaker from Helmand, said she believed the Taliban attack killed and wounded security force members, but she had no casualty breakdown.
Another suicide car bombing targeted the provincial prison, but the government still held it, she said.
In Kandahar, the Taliban claimed to have captured the city’s prison on Wednesday, freeing ‘hundreds’ of inmates which including some of its own fighters, who have now rejoined the ranks as reinforcements.
The loss of the jail is an ominous sign for government forces defending the city, which has been besieged for weeks by an assault that shows no sign of letting up.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is trying to rally a counteroffensive relying on his country’s special forces, the militias of warlords and American airpower ahead of the US and NATO withdrawal at the end of the month.
He was in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, in the country’s traditionally anti-Taliban northern strongholds, on Wednesday in an attempt to rally his men as jihadists approached its outskirts with a major offensive expected soon.
Fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians who have fled their homes, with thousands of those heading for the safety of government-held Kabul (pictured)
makeshift camps are springing up around Kabul to house thousands of refugees who have fled their homes due to fighting
families rest in a camp in Kabul after they fled their homes due to fear of the Taliban and sought shelter in government areas
With the Afghan air power limited and in disarray, the US Air Force is believed to be carrying out some series of strikes to support Afghan forces.
Aviation tracking data suggested US Air Force B-52 bombers, F-15 fighter jets, drones and other aircraft were involved in the fighting overnight across the country, according to Australia-based security firm The Cavell Group.
It’s unclear what casualties the US bombing campaign has caused. The US Air Force’s Central Command, based in Qatar, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The success of the Taliban offensive also calls into question the outcome of long-stalled peace talks in Qatar aimed at moving Afghanistan toward an inclusive interim administration as the West hoped.
Instead, the Taliban appears to be aiming to seize power by force, threatening a split of the country into factional fighting like it did after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
In Doha, US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has met with diplomats from China, Pakistan and Russia in an effort to as a group warn the Taliban they could again be considered international pariahs if they continue their offensive, State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Khalilzad also plans to meet with Afghan government and Taliban officials as the fighting goes on without a sign of it abating.
The multiple battle fronts have stretched the government’s special operations forces – while regular troops have often fled the battlefield – and the violence has pushed thousands of civilians to seek safety in the capital.
A family including women and children rest at a makeshift camp in the Afghan capital of Kabul after fleeing fighting
An internally displaced Afghan family, who fled from Takhar province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, sits inside their temporary tent at Sara-e-Shamali in Kabul
Internally displaced Afghan families, who fled from Kunduz, Takhar and Baghlan province due to battles between Taliban and Afghan security forces, walk past their temporary tents at Sara-e-Shamali in Kabul
A woman carries her children through a camp for refugees in the Afghan capital of Kabul