Taliban fighters ‘entered presidential palace’ says expert
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The Taliban have almost seized the whole of Afghanistan after making huge territorial gains over the last few weeks. Encouraged by the US withdrawing its troops, the Taliban have captured major cities including Kandahar and Herat, and are now closing in on the capital, Kabul. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has also fled the country for neighbouring Tajikistan, according to reports quoting Afghan officials on Sunday.
As thousands of people are fleeing Kabul and other areas, Iran has said it will provide shelter to Afghan refugees arriving at its borders.
Shi’ite Muslim-majority Iran has a complicated relationship with the Sunni Muslim Taliban.
The fundamentalist Islamic movement is despised by Iranians and in 1998 Tehran nearly ordered military action against the group.
It came after Taliban fighters killed eight Iranian diplomats and a reporter for Tehran’s official news agency IRNA at the Iranian consulate in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
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However, an unearthed report appears to reveal that in recent years Tehran has also bankrolled Taliban militants.
A recently resurfaced CNN article from last year claims that US intelligence shows how Tehran paid the Taliban “bounties” to attack Americans in Afghanistan.
The illicit payments were linked to six Taliban attacks in 2019, including a suicide bombing at the US’ former Bagram Air Base in northern Afghanistan.
Two car bombs were said to have been involved in the attack, which killed two members of the public and injured more than 70 others.
The Pentagon did not report any US personnel among the casualties, but four servicepeople were injured according to CNN, which said it had obtained documents from the Pentagon.
The news network said two intelligence sources had confirmed that the Iranian government had made the payments to fund the attacks.
Money was reportedly paid to the Haqqani Network, a Taliban splinter group.
Just a month after the Bagram attack, the US killed Iran’s top military commander, General Qasem Soleimani, in an airstrike at Iraq’s Baghdad airport.
The Bagram attack reportedly involved a “suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device”.
Around 10 Taliban militants had a shootout with local government forces before being killed by US airstrikes.
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Pentagon spokesman Rob Lodewick told CNN that “the Department of Defense does not disclose timelines or discussions surrounding internal deliberations and intelligence briefings.”
He added: “The administration has repeatedly demanded, both publicly and privately, that Iran cease its scourge of malign and destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East and the world.
“While the United States, its NATO allies and coalition partners are working to facilitate an end to 19 years of bloodshed, Iran’s inimical influence seeks to undermine the Afghan peace process and foster a continuation of violence and instability.”
At the start of July, the US pulled its troops out of Bagram, ending its 20-year stay at the base, handing it over to the Afghan National Defense and Security Force.
The withdrawal was reported to have taken place in the middle of the night without informing Afghan officials.
Since then, Taliban militants have embarked on rapid military offensives across Afghanistan, laying siege to a string of provincial capitals.
In recent days, as the Taliban have approached Kabul, international forces have been evacuating their diplomats from the capital amid security fears.
The US Embassy has begun pulling its staff out and Germany has closed its embassy.
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