KABUL: India has evacuated about 50 diplomats and security personnel from its consulate in Kandahar, the former Taliban bastion in southern Afghanistan, after days of intense fighting, officials and a security source said on Sunday.

The insurgents claimed this week that they now control 85 per cent of Afghanistan, much of it seized since early May when US-led foreign forces began their final withdrawal from the country.

The Taliban clashed with government forces this week on the edge of Kandahar city, the capital of Kandahar province where the Islamist movement was born.

“The Consulate General of India has not been closed. However, due to the intense fighting near Kandahar city, India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

“This is purely a temporary measure until the situation stabilises. The consulate continues to operate through our local staff members.”

A security source said about 50 Indian personnel, including some six diplomats, have been evacuated from the consulate.

It was still unclear whether they were brought to Kabul or evacuated to New Delhi.

Last week Russia announced it had closed its consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Earlier this month China also evacuated 210 nationals from the country.

The Taliban’s rapid gains have seen their fighters capture key border crossings and even attack a provincial capital.

The US withdrawal is now more than 90pc complete, the Pentagon announced this month, and President Joe Biden said on Thursday the US military mission would end on August 31.

Meanwhile, Afghan authorities said they have installed an anti-missile system at Kabul airport to counter incoming rockets, as the Taliban pressed on with a blistering offensive across the country.

The Islamist group’s rapid gains in recent weeks have raised fears about the security of the capital and its airport, with Nato keen to secure a vital exit route to the outside world for foreign diplomats and aid workers.

“The newly installed air defence system has been operational in Kabul since 2am on Sunday,” the interior ministry said in a statement.

“The system has proven useful in the world in repelling rocket and missile attacks.”

Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said it had been installed at the airport, while security forces spokesman Ajmal Omar Shinwari said the system was given by “our foreign friends”.

“It has very complicated technology. For now, our foreign friends are operating it while we are trying to build the capacity to use it,” Shinwari said, adding that in the past week 1,177 Taliban fighters were killed in fighting with government forces.

The Taliban have regularly launched rockets and mortars at government forces across the countryside, with the militant Islamic State (IS) group carrying out similar strikes on the capital in 2020.

IS claimed responsibility for a rocket attack this year at Bagram Air Base, the biggest US military facility in the country, which was recently handed over to Afghan forces.

Over the years, the US military installed several C-RAMs (Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar Systems) across its bases, including at Bagram, to destroy incoming rockets targeting the facilities, a foreign security official and media reports said.

The C-RAMS includes cameras to detect incoming rockets and alert local forces.

“The Taliban do not have any organised capacity but have demonstrated that they can fire modified rockets from vehicles and create panic, especially if aimed at an airport,” a foreign security official said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey and the United States had agreed on the “scope” of how the airport would be managed under the control of Turkish forces.

After Kabul called on militiamen across the country to help counter attacks, Afghan security spokesman Shinwari on Sunday urged Afghan youths to join the armed forces, saying the authorities had made recruitment procedures easier.

The Afghan government has repeatedly dismissed the Taliban’s gains as having little strategic value, but the seizure of multiple border crossings and the taxes they generate will likely fill the group’s coffers with new revenue.

The insurgents have routed much of northern Afghanistan in recent weeks, and the government holds little more than a constellation of provincial capitals that must largely be reinforced and resupplied by air.

Kabul urged European countries to halt “forced” deportation of Afghan migrants for the next three months given the wave of violence, and the United Nations said the escalating conflict was causing “more suffering” to the people.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2021


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