The Taliban seized a radio station in Kandahar and took to the airwaves after capturing much of southern Afghanistan in a rapid offensive that has raised fears of a full takeover less than three weeks before the US is set to withdraw its last troops.
The Taliban have captured much of northern, western and southern Afghanistan in recent weeks, leaving the Western-backed government in control of a smattering of provinces in the centre and east, as well as the capital, Kabul, and the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
The withdrawal of foreign forces and the swift retreat of Afghanistan’s own troops, despite hundreds of billions of dollars in US aid over the years, has raised fears the Taliban could return to power or the country could be plunged into civil war.
The first US Marines from a contingent of 3,000 arrived on Friday to help partially evacuate the US Embassy.
The rest are set to arrive by Sunday, and their deployment has raised questions about whether the administration will meet its August 31 withdrawal deadline.
The Taliban released a video in which an unnamed insurgent announced the takeover of the city’s main radio station, which has been renamed the Voice Of Sharia, or Islamic law.
He said all employees were present and would broadcast news, political analysis and recitations of the Koran, the Islamic holy book.
It appears the station will no longer play music.
It was not clear if the Taliban had purged the previous employees or allowed them to return to work.
Most residents of Kandahar sport the traditional dress favoured by the Taliban.
The man in the video congratulated the people of Kandahar on the Taliban’s victory.
The Taliban have operated mobile radio stations over the years, but have not operated a station inside a major city since they ruled the country from 1996-2001.
At that time, they also ran a station called Voice Of Sharia out of Kandahar, the birthplace of the militant group.
Music was banned.
The US invaded shortly after the 9/11 attacks, which al Qaida planned and carried out while being sheltered by Taliban.
After rapidly ousting the Taliban, the US shifted toward nation-building, hoping to create a modern Afghan state after decades of war and unrest.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced a timeline for the withdrawal of all US troops by the end of August, pledging to end America’s longest war.
His predecessor, President Donald Trump, had reached an agreement with the Taliban to pave the way for a US pullout.
Mr Biden’s announcement set the latest offensive in motion.
The Taliban, who have long controlled large parts of the Afghan countryside, moved quickly to seize provincial capitals, border crossings and other key infrastructure.
They are now within 50 miles of Kabul.
Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled their homes, with many fearing a return to the Taliban’s oppressive rule.
The group had previously governed Afghanistan under a harsh version of Islamic law in which women were largely confined to the home.
‘What was it all for’
Seriously injured veteran Ben Parkinson and his family say the Taliban advances in Afghanistan have left them asking “what on earth was it all for” and hoping no more British soldiers are harmed.
Mr Parkinson suffered horrendous injuries when an Army Land Rover hit a mine near Musa Qala in 2006, and is regarded as the most severely injured British soldier to survive in Afghanistan.
The former paratrooper said he feared for the Afghan people and urged the British Government to allow all interpreters and others who helped the British military to enter the UK.
He told the PA news agency he now feared a “bloodbath”.
“I’m still alive, though,” he said. “For the people who lost their sons, it really is such a shame.”
The former lance bombardier said he was very concerned for the interpreters who have been refused permission to come to Britain.
Speaking at his home in Doncaster, he said: “The Taliban are threatening their lives. They need to be taken to safety
“They helped us so what’s the point of leaving them to die now?
“We needed their help. They deserve to get to safety now because they are in danger now.
“It’s not just the interpreters. It’s a lot of people.”
The 37-year-old added: “If we leave, they’re going to get hurt. Our friends are going to get hurt.”
Mr Parkinson’s mother, Diane Dernie, said she did not blame President Joe Biden’s decision to pull American troops out of Afghanistan, saying the current situation was “inevitable”.
She said: “As Ben’s said, our thoughts are with the Afghan people because we went in there with good intentions and all we did was make things a thousand times worse.
“Now there seems to be not a single gain. Nothing.
“All the various missions that there were – controlling the drugs trade, helping the government, education for women, infrastructure – all gone. As if they’d never happened.
“You do ask the obvious question: what on earth was it all for?
“The grey men at the MoD (Ministry of Defence) make these decisions. They’re not paying the price.
“Politicians, they’ve come and gone, they’re not paying the price.
“The people who are paying the price are the affected families, those who lost their lives, their families and the guys like Ben who are still paying 15, 16, 17 years later.”
Mrs Dernie said the immediate concern was for the soldiers of 2 Para who are going back to Kabul to protect British citizens.
She said she feared “mission creep” as nothing would be gained from risking British troops by engaging the Taliban again.
Mrs Dernie said: “You do ask constantly, what was it all for, but you have to put that on one side and say, ‘is anything to be gained by going back again?’.
“So what we would really like to see is 2 Para, they go back in, they do this job of getting everybody out safely, and then we leave.
“We don’t want that wonderful phrase mission creep coming back in.
“We don’t want a little sideline that someone’s thought we should perhaps go and do while we’re there.
“Go in, do what needs to be done, and out without a single drop of blood being spilled, hopefully.”
Mr Parkinson, who left the Army in 2019, released a book earlier this year about his life and his lengthy and ongoing battles after the 2006 blast left him with both his legs amputated, a twisted spine and brain damage.
He was honoured with an MBE in 2013 for his work with veterans and other charities.