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Afghan Pres. Seeks Defense of Cities   08/03 06:08

   

   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Afghan president on Monday blamed the 
American troops' speedy pullout for the worsening violence in his country and 
said that his administration would now focus on protecting provincial capitals 
and major urban areas in the face of the rapidly advancing Taliban.

   Ashraf Ghani also urged lawmakers to back a national mobilization drive 
against the Taliban amid an intensifying war between the Taliban and Afghan 
government forces over the past few months as U.S. and NATO troops complete 
their pullout from the war-torn country.

   "An imported, hasty" peace process -- a reference to Washington's push for 
negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban -- "not only failed to bring peace 
but created doubt and ambiguity" among Afghans, Ghani said in his address to 
Parliament.

   The Afghan president arrived by helicopter for the extraordinary session of 
the house, called because of the dire situation on the ground. Ghani touched 
down at the Darul Aman Palace in Kabul and inspected an honor guard before 
heading inside.

   The Taliban are now trying to seize provincial capitals after already taking 
large swaths of land and scores of districts in more rural areas, as well as 
several key border crossings with neighboring countries.

   "The Taliban do not believe in lasting or just peace," Ghani said. He 
predicted a sea change on the battlefield "in the next six months" that would 
push the Taliban back, without elaborating.

   He claimed that Afghan forces are up to the task and have the "capacity" to 
defeat the insurgents. But in past weeks, Afghan forces have struggled against 
the Taliban onslaught, and have often been left without reinforcements and 
resupplies.

   Hours after the president's remarks, Taliban fighters seized control of 
Helmand province's government radio and TV building in Lashkar Gah, the 
provincial capital. Resident Haji Sadullah said they broadcast religious songs 
and invited people to follow their path for close to an hour on both AM and FM 
frequencies,

   Government officials did not immediately comment. The building is located 
400 meters (a quarter mile) to the north of the provincial governor's office, 
which is still under the control of the government along with a few other 
government installations.

   "Taliban were announcing that Radio Sharia started broadcasting after almost 
20 years," Sadullah said.

   On Sunday, the Afghan armed forces spokesman, Gen. Ajmal Omar Shinwari, told 
reporters that three provinces in southern and western Afghanistan face 
critical security situations. Southern Kandahar -- the birthplace of the 
Taliban -- as well as Helmand and Herat provinces have witnessed several 
attacks.

   Helmand provincial council chief Attaullah Afghan said the Taliban now have 
control of Lashkar Gah's seventh district. On Monday, elite Afghan commando 
units were dispatched to help defend the city.

   "There has been relentless gunfire, air strikes and mortars in densely 
populated areas. Houses are being bombed, and many people are suffering severe 
injuries," said Sarah Leahy, Helmand coordinator for Doctors Without Borders.

   The group, also known as Mdecins Sans Frontires or MSF, said in a 
statement Monday that life in Lashkar Gah was at a standstill as residents 
hunker down inside their homes, afraid to venture out.

   "Some of our colleagues are staying overnight in the hospital as it's safer, 
but also so they can keep on treating patients," the organization said. "The 
situation has been dire for months but now it is even worse."

   Faizullah, who like many other Afghans goes by one name, told The Associated 
Press over the phone that he fled Lashkar Gah with his family and was now 
following the Helmand River to safety. Clashes between the Taliban and Afghan 
forces have intensified, he said, and "Afghan security forces are out of 
supplies and food in the city."

   Back in Kabul, Ghani claimed his government has the financial and political 
support of the United States and the international community to turn the tide 
even as he urged the insurgents to rejoin peace talks.

   "We either sit knee to knee at the real negotiating table or break their 
(Taliban) knees on the battleground" Ghani said.

 
 
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