Middle East

Afghan president says in urgent talks as Taliban take key town near Kabul

KABUL, Aug 14 (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani said he was in urgent talks with local leaders and international partners as Taliban rebels pushed closer to Kabul, capturing a key town south of the capital that is one of the gateways to the city.

“As your President, my focus is on preventing further instability, violence, and displacement of my people,” Ghani said in a brief televised address as the United States and other countries rushed in troops to help evacuate their embassies.

Ghani gave no sign of responding to a Taliban demand that he resign for any talks on a ceasefire and a political settlement, saying “re-integration of the security and defence forces is our priority, and serious measures are being taken in this regard”.

He spoke soon after the insurgents took Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar province that is 70 km (40 miles) south of Kabul, according to a local provincial council member.

The Taliban did not face much resistance, the provincial council member told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The gain of the city, a key staging post for a potential assault on Kabul, comes a day after the insurgents took the country’s second- and third-biggest cities.

American troops have begun flying in to Kabul to help in the evacuation of embassy personnel and other civilians, a U.S. official said.

The Pentagon has said two battalions of Marines and one infantry battalion will arrive in Kabul by Sunday evening, involving about 3,000 troops.

“They have arrived, their arrival will continue ’til tomorrow,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

An infantry brigade combat team will also move out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Kuwait to act as a quick reaction force for security in Kabul if needed, the Pentagon has said.

Britain and several other Western nations are also sending troops as resistance from Afghan government forces crumbles and fears grow that an assault on Kabul could be just days away.

An Afghan government official confirmed on Friday that Kandahar, the economic hub of the south, was under Taliban control as U.S.-led international forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.

Herat in the west, near the border with Iran, also fell to the hardline Islamist group.

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