The Afghan city is located 150 kilometres southwest of Kabul

Taliban take Ghazni, the tenth provincial capital to fall to the insurgent group

PHOTO/AFP - Afghan Taliban militants

As the withdrawal of foreign troops is completed, the Taliban continue to conquer territory as they push the Afghan government into a corner. The latest provincial capital overrun by the insurgents was Ghazni, 150 kilometres from Kabul. Yesterday, the Taliban captured Faizabab in the northern region of Badakhshan.

"The Taliban took control of the main areas of the city: the governor's office, the police headquarters and the prison," said provincial council chief Nasir Ahmad Faqiri. The radical group already controls 10 of the 34 provincial capitals. Some of these territories they were unable to conquer when they were in power between 1996 and 2001.

This Taliban expansion is occurring rapidly and with little resistance from government security forces. According to US intelligence estimates, the Taliban are expected to take Kabul in about three months. However, the Afghan ambassador to Washington, Adela Raz, has expressed hope that US air support will "slow down the Taliban's victories in the country". On the contrary, she said that if Kabul falls, all hopes would be dashed. Raz also called on the US and its allies to impose sanctions on Taliban leaders.

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Germany has already stated that it will not provide financial aid to Afghanistan if the country ends up being completely controlled by insurgents. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas declared that he would not give "another penny" if the Taliban imposed Sharia law on the territory. Maas also said that Berlin has issued visas to 2,500 Afghan citizens who worked with German troops.

Another country watching the Taliban advance with concern is Turkey. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar has again stressed the need to secure Kabul's international airport. Akar announced that Ankara's plan to secure the airport will be defined in the coming days, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told CNN-Turk that he may meet with Taliban leaders. "If we do not control them at the highest level, it will not be possible to guarantee peace in Afghanistan," he said.

Afghan government close to collapse

The Taliban's recent gains are increasingly suffocating Ashraf Ghani's government, which has already lost important military bases such as Kunduz, as the insurgents close in on the capital. This bleak picture has prompted Ghani to look to warlords linked to corruption and crime to help push back the Taliban in some provinces such as Balkh, as reported by the Associated Press. On a visit to the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, Ghani called for a "popular uprising" against the Taliban.

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As part of the plan to fight the Taliban offensive, the government has also begun arming local groups, Afghan Interior Minister Abdul Satar Mirzakwal told Al-Jazeera. "We are working in three phases. The first is to stop the defeats of government forces, the second is to gather forces to create security circles around the cities," he said. Mirzakwal also lamented the "limited air support" from the US.

Afghan security forces must contend not only with the fighting, but also with the movement's general violence against government authorities in the form of attacks and assassinations. As the Associated Press reports, when fighters seized the town of Farah, they dragged the bloody corpse of a member of the Afghan armed forces through the street, shouting "God is great".

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Faced with this situation, coupled with the lack of aid, many soldiers choose to flee for their lives. This gives the Taliban a free hand in acquiring war materiel from military bases such as armoured vehicles and heavy weapons.

UN warns of war crimes and crimes against humanity

Afghan citizens are the ones who are really paying the consequences of the infighting and the Taliban advance. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has warned that the violations suffered by the Afghan population could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Since 9 July, 183 civilians have been killed and 1,181 wounded, including children. However, Bachelet notes that these are the numbers that have been documented and that "the real figures are much higher".

Within the population, the worst conditions are for women, who are already losing their rights in the regions under Taliban control. The UN reports that women have already been flogged in public for not complying with the rules. Even a women's rights activist was killed in Balkh on 3 August.

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There are also reports that women and girls are not allowed to leave the house alone. "Obstructing a woman's ability to leave the house without a male companion inevitably leads to a cascade of violations of women's economic and social rights," says Bachelet. Recent human rights gains for Afghan women are fading in the face of Taliban extremism. Each new city conquered means the end of freedoms for thousands of women and girls.

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