Afghan president replaces defence minister as Taliban gains ground
The presidency announced in a statement that General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, who fought under the late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud during a 1990s civil war, has been appointed the new defence minister
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday replaced two top ministers in charge of the country's faltering security situation. This measure came as the Taliban pressed on to capture new territory. The Taliban now claim to have seized more than 40 districts in recent weeks across countryside.
The presidency announced in a statement that General Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, who fought under the late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud during a 1990s civil war, has been appointed the new defence minister.
He has previously held defence and interior ministry portfolios. Mohammadi has also served as chief of army staff after fall of Taliban following US-led invasion in 2001.
President Ghani also appointed General Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal as interior minister, the presidency said. Mirzakwal has previously held several regional posts.
Mohammadi replaces Asadullah Khalid who has repeatedly flown out of the country for treatment to wounds suffered after a suicide bomber attacked him in 2012.
The latest cabinet changes need to be approved by the parliament.
US President Joe Biden has set September 11 -- the 20th anniversary of the attacks in the United States that led to the invasion of Afghanistan -- as the deadline to withdraw American soldiers.
Since the Pentagon commenced the final withdrawal on May 1, the Taliban have unleashed a wave of attacks targeting government forces.
The insurgents claim to have seized more than 40 districts since early May, forcing military leaders to strategically retreat from a number of rural districts.
The Taliban are now present in almost every province and are encircling several major cities - a strategy the militants employed in the mid-1990s when they overran most of Afghanistan until they were ousted by invading US-led forces.
On Saturday, the defence ministry confirmed that government troops had retreated from several districts but said they aimed to take them back.
"There is a new, robust and effective plan to retake areas from which we have pulled back our forces," ministry spokesman Rohullah Ahmadzai said, dismissing claims that hundreds of soldiers had surrendered to the Taliban.
(With inputs from agencies)