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Afghanistan war: Taliban capture regional capital Zaranj

A city in southwestern Afghanistan has become the country’s first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in recent years.

Multiple local officials said the Taliban had captured Zaranj, in Nimroz province, on Friday afternoon, in a major blow to government forces.

The militants continue to make rapid advances in the country, as foreign troops withdraw.

They have taken swathes of countryside and are now targeting key cities.

Other provincial capitals under pressure include Herat in the west, and the southern city of Lashkar Gah, in Helmand province.

Zaranj is a major trading hub near the border with Iran. After capturing surrounding districts, the militants made a sustained bid to seize the city.

Two official sources told the BBC the city had been taken. The government has not yet officially commented.

A police spokesperson in Nimroz told Reuters news agency that the Taliban had been able to capture Zaranj because of a lack of reinforcements from the government.

The insurgents claimed victory in a post shared on Twitter.

“This is the beginning, and see how other provinces fall in our hands very soon,” a Taliban commander told Reuters.

Some reports said a deal had been reached with the Taliban, allowing Afghan officials to flee to Iran with their families.

Pictures posted on social media showed civilians looting items from government buildings.

The last time the Taliban won a provincial capital was in 2016 when they briefly held the northern city of Kunduz.

The militants have swept through Afghanistan in recent months, launching a major offensive to coincide with the withdrawal of US forces after 20 years of military operations. The capture of Zaranj will add to their momentum.

The UN’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, on Friday said the war in the country had entered a “new, deadlier, and more destructive phase”, with more than 1,000 civilians killed in the past month.

She warned that the country was heading for “catastrophe”, and called on the UN Security Council to issue an “unambiguous statement that attacks against cities must stop now”.

Earlier on Friday, the director of Afghanistan’s media and information center was assassinated by Taliban militants in the capital, Kabul. The Taliban said Dawa Khan Menapal had been “punished for his deeds”.

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