Afghan gov't imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance
Afghan authorities on July 23 imposed a night-time curfew across 31 of the country’s 34 provinces to curb surging violence unleashed by a sweeping Taliban offensive in recent months, the interior ministry said.
The widespread Taliban assault has seen the insurgents capture key border crossings, dozens of districts and encircle several provincial capitals since early May when the U.S.-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal.
"To curb violence and limit the Taliban movements a night curfew has been imposed in 31 provinces across the country," except in Kabul, Panjshir and Nangarhar, the interior ministry said in a statement.
The curfew will be effective between 10:00 pm and 4:00 am local time, Ahmad Zia Zia, deputy interior ministry spokesman said in a separate audio statement to reporters.
With the withdrawal of American-led foreign forces all but complete, the resurgent Taliban now controls about half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts.
After a brief lull in violence during this week’s Muslim holidays of Eid al-Adha, fighting resumed with the authorities claiming to have killed more than 260 Taliban fighters in the past 24 hours across several provinces.
Both the authorities and the Taliban exaggerate their claims which cannot be independently verified.
As the fighting raged in recent weeks, the U.S. military was forced to carry out air strikes "to support" Afghan troops to repel Taliban offensives even as its overall withdrawal continues, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on July 22.
Experts say a lack of regular U.S. air support since May to Afghan forces on the ground is a key factor in government troops losing lot of territory to the Taliban.
Late on July 23, the Taliban warned the U.S. military against carrying out air strikes.
"It is a clear violation of the signed agreement that will have consequences," the Taliban said in a statement, referring to a landmark deal between Washington and the insurgents last year that paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces.
The Taliban also warned the Afghan government against launching any offensive, saying the group will "strongly defend their territories and not remain in a defensive posture if the enemy insists upon war".
The Taliban had said earlier this week that its fighters were in a "defensive" posture to mark the Eid al-Adha holidays that ended on July 22.
Earlier this week, the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff General Mark Milley said the Taliban appear to have "strategic momentum" on the battlefield.
With the militants putting pressure on around half of the country’s provincial capitals, Afghan troops are in the process of "consolidating their forces" to protect those major urban centers, Milley added.
But global rights group Human Rights Watch said there were reports the Taliban were committing atrocities against civilians in areas they had captured, including in the town of Spin Boldak near the border with Pakistan they captured earlier this month.
It said, quoting local journalists, that relatives of government officials were being targeted in Spin Boldak in the southern province of Kandahar.
"There are grave concerns that Taliban forces in Kandahar may commit further atrocities to retaliate against the government and security forces," Patricia Grossman, associate Asia director at HRW said in a statement.
"Taliban leaders have denied responsibility for any abuses, but growing evidence of expulsions, arbitrary detentions, and killings in areas under their control are raising fears among the population."
Afghan authorities have accused the Taliban of killing about 100 civilians in Spin Boldak town since seizing it. The insurgents have denied the charge.