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Taliban assassinate government’s top-ranking media officer in kabul

Dawa Khan Minapal, head of Government Media and Information Centre, was shot dead in Kabul today

KABUL: Taliban fighters have assassinated the Afghanistan government’s top media and information officer in Kabul, the group’s spokesman and Afghan officials confirmed.

The killing on Friday came days after Taliban warned it would target senior administration officials in retaliation for increased air strikes. Dawa Khan Minapal, head of Government Media and Information Centre, had been killed.

“Unfortunately, the savage terrorists have committed a cowardly act once again and martyred a patriotic Afghan,” interior ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai said. Minapal had also served as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman.

“He was well known to Afghan journalists, a member of the inner circle of President Ghani and our understanding is that he left home to go for Friday prayers and was killed,” said Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from Kabul.

Taliban closes in on two provincial capitals

Taliban fighters have intensified clashes with Afghan forces and targeted militias allied with the government, officials say, stretching their dominance of border towns and closing in on two provincial capitals as foreign forces leave.

At least 10 Afghan soldiers and a commander of armed members belonging to the Abdul Rashid Dostum militia group in the northern province of Jowzjan were killed, Reuters news agency, quoting officials, reported on Friday.

“The Taliban launched violent attacks on the outskirts of (provincial capital) Sheberghan this week and during heavy clashes a pro-government militia forces’ commander loyal to Dustom was killed,” said Abdul Qader Malia, the deputy governor of Jowzjan province.

The Taliban, whose government was toppled by the United States-led forces in 2001, has stepped up its campaign to defeat the Western-backed government as foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.

Another provincial council member said nine of the 10 districts of Jowzjan were now controlled by the Taliban and the conflict to control Sheberghan was under way.

In southern Helmand province, damage to civilian property aggravated the humanitarian crisis as shops caught fire in a week-long battle to control the capital of Lashkar Gah.

Al Jazeera’s Bays earlier on Friday said the situation in Lashkar Gah is serious and the government might lose its first provincial capital. Bays said there is intense fighting going on around the intelligence headquarters in the centre of Lashkar Gah, and also around its main prison.

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