KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The Taliban on Friday gunned down the director of Afghanistan’s Government Information Media Center, the latest murder of a government official and which comes just days after an assassination attempt on the minister of Interim Defense.
The assassination comes as the Taliban wage fierce battles across the country, besieging provincial capitals in the south and west of the country. In southwest Nimroz, the capital Zaranj was on the brink of collapse with heavy fighting inside the city around key infrastructure, provincial council chief Baz Mohammad Nasir said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Associated Press that fighters from the groups killed Dawa Khan Menapal, who ran the government’s press operations for local and foreign media. Menapal was previously deputy spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
In a statement later released by Mujahid, he said Menapal “was killed in a special attack on Mujahideen” and was “punished for his actions”.
Mujahid did not give further details. Assassinations of government officials by the Taliban are not uncommon, and several recent attacks on civilians have been claimed by Islamic State. The government most often holds the Taliban to account.
War between the Taliban and Afghan government forces has escalated in recent months as US and NATO troops complete their withdrawal from the war-torn country.
The Taliban are now trying to take over provincial capitals after having already taken smaller administrative districts.
Menapal’s murder happened as weekly Friday prayers were being said, Interior Ministry deputy spokesman Said Hamid Rushan said. It was not known where Menapal was at the time of the shooting.
Late Tuesday, a Taliban bombing targeting Afghanistan’s acting defense minister left at least eight dead and 20 injured in a heavily guarded upscale neighborhood of Kabul. The deputy minister is unharmed.
The explosion was followed by a shootout which also left four activists dead. The Taliban have said they want to avenge their fighters killed in government offensives in rural provinces.
Meanwhile, Afghan and American planes shelled Taliban positions in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province on Friday as insurgent forces closed a major border post with neighboring Pakistan.
Residents of Lashkar Gah, the disputed provincial capital of Helmand, said airstrikes destroyed a market in the center of town – an area controlled by the Taliban. Afghan officials say the Taliban now controls 9 of the city’s 10 police districts.
The elite Afghan commandos deployed to Lashkar Gah, supported by air strikes from the Afghan and US air forces. The provincial capital of Nimroz, in the southwest of the country, was also on the brink of collapse, local officials said.
The Taliban began sweeping the territory with unexpected speed after the United States and NATO began their final withdrawal from Afghanistan in late April. More than half of Afghanistan’s 421 districts and district centers are now in Taliban hands.
While many districts lie in remote areas, some are deeply strategic, giving the Taliban control of lucrative border crossings with Iran, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
In southeastern Afghanistan, the Taliban last month seized control of the border town of Spin Boldak from Pakistan. The crossing is one of the busiest and most valuable in Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis cross daily and a constant stream of trucks pass through, bringing goods to landlocked Afghanistan from the Pakistani Arab port city of Karachi.
The Taliban slammed the border post to close on Friday over a visa dispute.
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