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The Taliban Gains Ground In Province Near Kabul

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This weekend, the list of cities the Taliban have captured grows with alarming speed. At the moment, they are just a few miles away from the capital, Kabul. There's also fear of a humanitarian crisis. Fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of people since May. And the U.N. says that half of Afghan children under the age of 5 are severely malnourished. We're joined now from Kabul by reporter Lynne O'Donnell. Lynne, thanks for being with us.

LYNNE O'DONNELL: Hello there.

SIMON: And please, let's begin on, what's the latest you know about where the Taliban offensive is?

O'DONNELL: The latest reports put the number of provincial capitals to have fallen at 18. This means probably more than two-thirds of the country is now under Taliban control. You're right. They are very, very close to Kabul. And the conditions here are deteriorating by the hour as people are flooding into the capital from all parts of the country to escape.

SIMON: And we've been hearing for many Afghans about what they fear it will mean. This is a clip from an Afghan citizen, Rangina Hamidi, who spoke with NPR yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

RANGINA HAMIDI: I have a young daughter who's in fifth grade. And we have other kids living with us. You know, they are oblivious to what is happening in Afghanistan. But it struck me to think and look at them and say, God forbid, but something can happen any minute. And these joyous, little girls playing may end in a second.

SIMON: And can you tell us what you've been hearing from Afghans?

O'DONNELL: This uncertainty is just agonizing. People who are resident in Kabul and have their homes and their jobs - many are trying to get out. A lot of the embassies that were issuing visas to Afghans quite easily up until very recently are no longer doing so. The Taliban, long ago, took control of the border points. So even escaping by road is now no longer possible. As you know, people here are armed. And that could very easily lead to armed fighting in the streets in the capital of the country.

SIMON: Then I think a question that's occurring to a lot of people in Afghanistan and in America today, as they know the terrible prospects ahead - the U.S. has spent more than $80 billion supporting, building up, fighting with Afghan forces. Why has the Afghan military failed to put up a fight?

O'DONNELL: Some of those 18 provincial cities that have fallen in the past week have fallen without a shot being fired. The government of Ashraf Ghani has shown no leadership, has been incapable of coming up with a strategy. So the question has to be asked of President Ghani. I don't know what the answer would be. But one of the answers has got to be corruption. A lot of that money has been pilfered. Police haven't been paid for three months. The soldiers are the same. They're going without food, supply of ammunition, arms. They sit on the frontlines calling for airstrikes that don't come in. And none of them have faith in the government. If you don't believe in what you're fighting for, why fight?

SIMON: In the face of these momentous events, President Ashraf Ghani finally issued a statement. But it was prerecorded. Did that raise public confidence?

O'DONNELL: I don't think it's raised public confidence. There may be a sigh of relief that he hasn't resigned, as had been widely expected. But there hasn't been anything that President Ghani has said that will change the situation on the battlefield or make people feel confident that he's come up with a strategy and is going to become the leader that their country needs.

SIMON: Reporter Lynne O'Donnell in Kabul, thanks so much. Take care.

O'DONNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.