KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban gained control on Tuesday of a strategic district headquarters in a province in central Afghanistan, just southwest of the capital of Kabul, a provincial council official said.
According to the official, Sharifullah Hotak, the Taliban overran the Nirkh district headquarters in Maidan Wardak province. The insurgents confirmed the significant battlefield success.
The insurgents have long held sway in the area, but the collapse of the district headquarters doesn’t bode well for embattled Afghan security forces as U.S. and NATO troops begin their final withdrawal from the country, after 20 years of war.
Nirkh district is important because it runs along the central highway that links Kabul to southern Kandahar province, a Taliban heartland. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement saying the insurgent group seized the district, confiscating weapons and military equipment.
The district collapse comes ahead of a Taliban-announced, three-day cease fire over the Eid-al-Fitr holidays marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan this week.
The Taliban also released more than 100 government prisoners from across the country, said Taliban’s political spokesman Suhail Shaheen. The prisoner release was also to commemorate the Eid holidays, he said.
The last of America’s 2,500-3,500 troops and about 7,000 allied NATO forces are to be out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11 at the latest. Their departure has stoked fears of quick territorial gains by the Taliban.
Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said the retreat in Maidan Wardak was a tactical decision and that he expected the Afghan security forces to retake the headquarters.