Taliban threatens US with ‘holy war’ after new Afghanistan advance

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KABUL – The Taliban took over another district in Afghanistan, the second in two weeks, saying the US will “regret” the abandonment of key peace talks that were interrupted after President Donald Trump canceled a long-awaited meeting with the group.

Yangi Qala, a district of northern Afghanistan’s Takhar province, fell into the hands of Taliban fighters on Tuesday after government troops retreated in fear of further casualties, local authorities told the press. They sent reinforcements to expel the Taliban from the area, claiming that dozens of militants were killed.

But the seizure of the district, which is close to the border of Russia’s military ally, Tajikistan, comes days after the Taliban made another advance by capturing the Anar Darah neighborhood in western Afghanistan.

The news follows Trump’s recent decision to cancel a meeting with Taliban representatives at Camp David, asking the group if they are ready for the next decades of war. The US president said he canceled the meeting after the Taliban took responsibility for attacks in Kabul that killed 12 people, including a US soldier, earlier this week.

For its part, the Taliban warned that the US would suffer heavy losses by abandoning key negotiations , but the acquisitions appear to be a continuation of its reward and punishment tactics.

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Later on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid reiterated the threat, saying Washington would regret not returning to the table. The Islamic group, he said, will resume jihad (holy war) and will fight to end the foreign occupation of Afghanistan.

Comings and goings

In recent years, US negotiators have held several rounds of discreet talks with the militants at their political office in Doha, Qatar, making room for a possible truce. But the question remains whether this could be achieved, as the Taliban often targets local and foreign forces, sometimes taking control of important cities and locations.

First decimated in the post-September 11 US air strikes and subsequent Western intervention, the Taliban resurfaced and reacted, gradually expanding influence in the east, west and south of the country.

They now control more land areas in Afghanistan than anywhere else since 2001. An interactive map of the Long War newspaper shows the considerable amount of territory the Taliban owns or disputes.

As negotiations stalled and fighting continued, top US officials expressed pessimism about Afghanistan’s exit strategy. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged this week that the peace process is dead for now, adding that Washington is seeking significant compromises from the militant group.

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