By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
Taliban fighters captured most of the capital of northern Afghanistan’s key Kunduz province and seized another neighboring provincial capital after a monthlong siege.
The advances were the latest in a series of setbacks to government forces and U.S. troops pulling out after two decades in the war-torn nation.
It also underscored the massive re-emergence of the Taliban, further threatening the tiny Christian community already struggling to survive in the strict Islamic country.
There are up to 3,000 Christians from a Muslim background residing in the country, according to U.S. sources and researchers. Other reports say as many as 18,000 Afghan Christians practicing their faith secretly in the strict Islamic nation.
Aid workers told Worthy News that the Taliban is re-imposing its “ultra-strict form of ‘sharia’ (Islamic law) as they go.”
That appeared the case Sunday as footage emerged of militiamen planting their flag in the main square of Kunduz flying atop a traffic police booth.
Observers said five regional capitals have fallen to the militants since Friday, with Kunduz being their most crucial gain this year.
The city links to other areas, including the capital Kabul, raising fears that the nation will become a beacon of Islamic extremism and will threaten the current government.
In a show of strength, three northern cities fell to Taliban control within hours of each other on Sunday, with one resident in Kunduz describing the situation as “total chaos.”
The Afghan government claimed its forces were fighting to retake critical installations, but it seemed an uphill battle with the U.S. and multinational troops withdrawing.
Heavy fighting was also reported in Herat in the west and the southern cities of Kandahar and Lashkar Gah.
Amid the clashes, thousands of civilians were desperately seeking shelter. Reporters said among those fleeing were families, including babies and young children, sheltering in a school in the northeastern city of Asadabad.
“Many bombs were dropped on our village,” said local resident Gul Naaz. The Taliban came and destroyed everything. We were helpless and had to leave our houses. Our children and ourselves are sleeping on the ground in dire conditions”, Naaz told the AFP news agency.
“There was firing; one of my seven-year-old daughters went out during that fighting and disappeared. I don’t know if she is alive or dead,” another displaced resident added.
The death toll is reportedly rapidly rising. The Afghan military says dozens of Islamist fighters, including senior commanders, have been killed in Lashkar Gah alone.
The Taliban, however, has denied the military’s version of events. And the central government seemed to face massive security challenges of its own. In the Afghan capital Kabul this week, the Taliban shot dead President Ashraf Ghani’s former spokesman.
They also carried out a bomb attack on the house of the acting defense minister killing at least eight people and wounding 20, authorities said. The interim minister was not hurt in the attack claimed by Taliban insurgents.
Emboldened by what it perceives as successful attacks, the militant group closed the border with Pakistan.
Pictures showed dozens of Afghans stranded on the Pakistani side, unable to return to their families. “We came [to Pakistan] to attend a funeral three days ago. Now the border is closed. We’re sitting here. We have no food and no money,” a man trying to get home to Kandahar told Reuters news agency.
The U.S. and British governments have urged their citizens to leave the country immediately, citing the worsening security situation.
In statements, the British Foreign Office warned that militants were very likely to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.
Washington said Americans could receive a repatriation loan if they cannot afford to pay for a commercial flight themselves.
But that was no option for vulnerable Afghans, including Christians, most of whom converted from Islam.
“How we survive daily only God knows,” said a secret Afghan believer in a published statement earlier mentioned by Worthy News. “He knows because He has been kind to dwell with us. But we are tired of all the death around us,” added the believer speaking anonymously amid security concerns.
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