In Afghanistan, heavy fighting continues between government forces and the Islamist anti-government Taliban movement in and around Kandahar, the center of the southern province of the same name. Fighting in the city continued for the third day after the Taliban invaded one of the city’s districts for the first time on July 9, before capturing several neighboring administrative districts.
On 19th July, the Afghan National Army said “70 Taliban militants have been killed and eight wounded in fighting in the Taliban-occupied Seventh Police District in Kandahar’s Seventh Police District over the past 24 hours, with eight wounded. In addition, civilian casualties were reported – at least a few were killed and dozens were injured.”
A Kandahar police spokesman said the militants were forcibly evicting people from their homes and using the houses as shelter. This complicates the task of driving the Taliban out of the city because, according to the military, they do not want to destroy houses.
Heavy fighting has also been reported in several areas near Kandahar, including the Dundee area surrounding the city, as well as Argandab and Spin Boldak.
The Taliban, meanwhile, have not confirmed any fighting in Kandahar, but say they have seized several major checkpoints in the Spin Boldak, Dund and Zharai areas.
Kandahar province was the center of the Taliban before the US-led international operation removed the movement from power. The city of Kandahar itself is the informal “capital” of the Pashtun people, whose representatives make up the vast majority of the movement’s militants.
Since the beginning of May, when the United States and its allies began withdrawing their troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban has reportedly seized dozens of administrative districts in various parts of the country, greatly expanding the already vast territories under their control.
The Taliban has reportedly captured the border crossings with Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and even China, with which the country shares a frontier only 76 km long.
Turkmenistan brings heavy guns to the border
On 10th July, a train with heavy military equipment arrived in the Turkmen city of Serkhetabat on the border with Afghanistan: tanks, guns and armored personnel carriers. On the night of July 9, 2021, near the Turkmen city of Serkhetabad, on the border with Afghanistan, there was a shooting and powerful explosions were heard. Local press also reported on repeated alarms by border Turkmen military units and the beginning of the evacuation of civilians.
Iran says border tranquil
Iran, which doesn’t see eye to eye with the Taliban said its borders with Afghanistan are tranquil. The Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said “The borders of the Islamic Republic of Iran are in full tranquility and security thanks to the zealous border guards of our country, and there is no insecurity on our country’s border with Afghanistan.”
At the same time, he said that clashes at two crossing points on the Afghan side of the border had caused an unspecified number of Afghans to flee into Iran. Tehran “will take the necessary measures in accordance with laws and regulations and in line with border agreements with Afghanistan and within the framework of good neighbourliness,” he said.
Taliban has seized the Islam Qala border crossing in the western Herat province this week. The crossing is the largest trade gateway between Iran and Afghanistan and generated an estimated $20 million in monthly revenue for Kabul before its seizure. The capture has been confirmed by Afghan officials.
On Thursday, Iran’s Customs Administration has asked the businesses to halt all shipments via the Islam Qala crossing and the Mahiroud-Sheikh Abu Nasr Farahi border point in Iran’s South Khorasan province until further notice. It said that the Milak-Zaranj crossing in Sistan-Baluchestan will remain open. Dozens of trucks had piled up on the border from the Iranian side, with at least 45 of them returning as of Friday.
In the 1990s, Iran had threatened to launch a military invasion targeting the Sunni fundamentalist movement over the killings of diplomats at an Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998 and poor treatment of Afghanistan’s Shia Hazaras minority. Tehran had provided material assistance to Ahmad Saha Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance rebel group which would eventually help topple the Taliban from power in Kabul. In late 2001, Iran has covertly supported a US special forces-led operation in Herat, northwest Afghanistan to drive the Taliban out of the city. Of late Iran has softened its position on the Taliban, but has not established formal ties, as a political debate rages inside the Islamic Republic. In the recent literature from Iran, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei suggested that the Taliban had not targeted Shias in their recent campaigns, diplomat Ali Khorram says that the Taliban was targeting Afghani Shias, and violating the rights of women. He said that the Taliban allows jihadists such as ISIS or Daesh to use Afghan territory to prepare for attacks inside Iran. He also argues that that late Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani “would not have waited” to deal with the emergent threat.
Pakistan strengthens security measures on the border
Pakistani Armed Forces spokesman Babar Iftikhara in an interview with local TV channel ARY News spoke about the strengthening of security measures on the border with Afghanistan. “At the moment, 90% of Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan is protected by a fence,” said Iftikhar, quoted by the Dawn newspaper.
“But border security is a two-way street. The other side had to take measures, as we did, which, unfortunately, did not happen,” Iftikhar said.
Earlier, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that Pakistan decided not to open the border for refugees from Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of US troops from the country and the advance of militants. But, Iftikhar said that the Interior Ministry has prepared for a possible influx of Afghan refugees.
US Envoy for Afghanistan in Qatar to Secure Support for Afghan Peace
The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is on a three nation tour in the Middle East and Asia, starting in Qatar, in a bid to secure support for the Afghan peace process. The Department of State said Saturday that the envoy would also visit Pakistan and Uzbekistan to “engage in determined diplomacy” as violence in Afghanistan shows no sign of abating. “I return to Doha and the region to continue our determined diplomacy in pursuit of a peace agreement between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban [terrorist organization, banned in Russia],” said the Afghan-American diplomat Khalilzad in a tweet.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani urges Taliban to refrain from violence
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani urged the Taliban to refrain from violence and participate in the peace process. Stating that the Taliban is responsible for the increasing violence in the country, Gani said, “The Taliban should be asked who they are fighting for. Who will benefit from the destruction of Afghanistan and the killing of Afghans?”
On the other hand, in a statement made today by the Afghan Defense Ministry, it was reported that 191 Taliban members were killed in air strikes carried out in different parts of the country.
SCO foreign ministers to focus on socio-economic assistance to Afghanistan
At a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Foreign Ministers in Dushanbe on July 13-14, the foreign ministers of SCO member states will focus on a draft plan of joint action to facilitate Afghanistan’s social and economic reconstruction, Bakhtiyer Khakimov, Russia’s Special Presidential Envoy for SCO Affairs and the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Ambassador at Large, said in an interview with TASS.
“Within the SCO framework, we plan to discuss another initiative put forward by Uzbekistan, which is a draft plan of joint action to help Afghanistan’s social and economic reconstruction. We believe that such a document should be worked out by all the ministries and agencies concerned and approved, for instance, at the level of heads of government. It is crucial to draft a serious and solid document,” the diplomat said.
Khakimov pointed out that the SCO countries have multiple economic projects for cooperation with Afghanistan and are currently discussing ideas of how to rebuild old infrastructure. He drew attention to the fact that about 160 facilities were built in Afghanistan with the assistance of the Soviet Union, most of which were operational at the time of the Soviet troops’ withdrawal from the country.
“Now there are ideas to reconstruct and develop them. Taking into regard that a variety of bilateral projects are being implemented by Russia, China, India, Uzbekistan and other SCO countries, why not put them under the SCO auspices?” Khakimov said.