Provincial capital in Afghanistan falls to the Taliban

The Taliban has claimed its first provincial capital following the withdrawal of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Zaranj, the capital city of Afghanistan’s Nimruz province, was taken by Taliban forces on Friday, The Washington Post reported, several days after the insurgent group made inroads in two major cities — Kandahar and Herat — for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The deputy governor of Nimruz, Rohullah Gul Khairzad, did not provide much detail but confirmed that Zaranj “had fallen” to the group, the Post reported.

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The news follows a startling report that the insurgent group on Friday killed the head of Afghanistan’s government media department.

A spokesperson for the insurgent group, Zabihullah Mujahid, confirmed on Twitter that Dawa Khan Menapal, the director of Afghanistan’s Government Media and Information Centre, “was killed in a special attack” by the mujahideen “and was punished for his actions.”

The twin reports are likely to increase fears that Afghanistan could fall quickly to the Taliban once all U.S. forces leave the country. U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan since the invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, making it America's longest war.

President BidenJoe BidenCDC working to tighten testing requirement for international travelers On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Manchin seeks 'adjustments' to spending plan MORE, in deciding to remove troops, is taking a political risk if he is blamed for the country falling to the Taliban.

At the same time, Biden has defended his decision by arguing that U.S. troops and their families should not be asked to stay in Afghanistan in perpetuity.

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As U.S. and NATO troops finish withdrawing the last of their service members from Afghanistan, the Taliban has continued to make worrying footholds in major cities — instead of the rural areas and smaller cities it was once fighting over — as government officials continue to be targeted.

Just last week, the Taliban launched an attack aimed at the country’s acting defense minister in Kabul, The Associated Press reported. Though the acting defense minister was not hurt in the attack, the bombing injured 20 people and killed eight.

According to a statement by State Department spokesman Ned Price, Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — FDA advisers back first at-home COVID-19 pill Overnight Defense & National Security — Austin mandates vaccine for Guardsmen Menendez jabs State official over Colombian group's terror designation MORE talked to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani over the phone on Tuesday asking for the government to speed up peace talks with the Taliban.

Price said that Blinken “emphasized the need to accelerate peace negotiations and achieve a political settlement that is inclusive, respects the rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities, allows the Afghan people to have a say in choosing their leaders, and prevents Afghan soil from being used to threaten the United States and its allies and partners.”

“Both leaders condemned the ongoing Taliban attacks, which show little regard for human life and human rights, and deplored the loss of innocent Afghan lives and displacement of the civilian population," Price added.