Afghan government imposes night curfew to stem Taliban advance

Ban on movement from 10pm to 4am has been applied in 31 of 34 provinces

An Afghan soldier stops a vehicle at a checkpoint in Herat after a night curfew was imposed across 31 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces. AFP
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Afghan authorities have imposed a night-time curfew across 31 of the country's 34 provinces to curb an offensive launched by the Taliban.

The insurgents have captured key border crossings and dozens of districts and encircled several provincial capitals since early May when US-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal.

"To curb violence and limit the Taliban movements, a night curfew has been imposed in 31 provinces," the Afghan Interior Ministry said.

The curfew has not been imposed in Kabul, Panjshir and Nangarhar.

The restrictions will be in effect between 10pm and 4am, said Ahmad Zia Zia, deputy interior ministry spokesman.

With the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces all but complete, the resurgent Taliban now control about half of the almost 400 districts in Afghanistan.

After a brief lull in violence during the Eid Al Adha holidays, fighting has resumed.

The authorities said on Saturday that more than 260 Taliban fighters were killed in the previous 24 hours across several provinces.

As the fighting raged in recent weeks, the American military was forced to carry out air strikes to help Afghan troops to repel Taliban fighters even as the US withdrawal continued, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday.

Experts say a lack of regular US air support has been a key factor in government troops losing territory to the Taliban.

Late on Friday, the Taliban warned the US military against carrying out air strikes.

"It is a clear violation of the signed agreement that will have consequences," the group said, referring to a deal agreed to by Washington and the insurgents last year that paved the way for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

The Taliban also warned the government against launching an offensive, saying their fighters would "strongly defend their territories and not remain in a defensive posture if the enemy insists upon war".

The Taliban had said previously that its militants were in "defensive" positions during Eid Al Adha.

Earlier this week, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Gen Mark Milley, said the Taliban appear to have "strategic momentum" on the battlefield.

With the militants putting pressure on about half of the country's provincial capitals, Afghan troops are in the process of "consolidating their forces" to protect those major urban centres, Gen Milley said.

But global rights group Human Rights Watch said there were reports the Taliban were committing atrocities against civilians in areas they captured, including Spin Boldak near the border with Pakistan.

The insurgents captured the town this month.

Human Rights Watch said quoted local journalists as saying relatives of government officials were the targets of attacks 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," said Patricia Grossman, associate Asia director at the rights group.

"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.

Updated: July 25, 2021, 5:29 PM