Amid significant Taliban advances, the director of Afghanistan’s government media center was ambushed and killed on Friday in the capital, Kabul, the latest killing of a government official just days after an assassination attempt on the country’s acting defense minister, reported AP. Also, in a major but symbolic victory, the Taliban on Friday appeared to have taken their first provincial capital — the city of Zaranj in southern Nimroz province. The government, however, claimed there was still fierce fighting around key infrastructure in the city and that Zaranj had not fallen.
However, the Taliban posted images on social media showing insurgents inside the local airport and posing for photographs at the entrance to the city. Nimroz is sparsely populated in a region that’s mainly desert and Zaranj, the provincial capital, has about 50,000 residents. The province’s governor, Abdul Karim Barahawi, fled Zaranj for refuge in the peaceful Chahar Burjak district, where the local ethnic Baluch population has given him protection. The Taliban have been surging for months in Afghanistan, taking swaths of land as U.S. and NATO forces complete their final pullout from the country by the end of the month. The battles intensified lately as the Taliban laid siege to provincial capitals in southern and western Afghanistan, after capturing district after district and even seizing several key border crossings. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Associated Press that the insurgents killed Dawa Khan Menapal, the chief of the Afghan government’s press operations for local and foreign media. He had previously been a deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The assassination took place during weekly Friday prayers in Kabul, according to the Interior Ministry’s deputy spokesman, Said Hamid Rushan. After the shooting, Afghan forces fanned out across the neighborhood where Menapal was gunned down while riding in his car. Mujahid put out a statement claiming responsibility and said Menapal “was killed in a special attack” by the mujahedeen, or holy warriors.