British veteran of Afghan war has taken life since withdrawal, says minister

At least one British military veteran who served in Afghanistan committed suicide after the country fell to the Taliban, the army minister said.

James Heappey, who served in the country, told Sky News, “This is very worrying and troubling for people like me who are now in government and have served there. I know how much the veteran community suffers.

“As I understand it, in the past few days there have been people who have committed suicide – certainly someone who has committed suicide – who have done so because of their feelings about the consequences of withdrawal.

“It makes me sick to the stomach and I’m scared for a lot of my friends who I know are still struggling with what they saw on these tours through Afghanistan.

“So the government, the nation, must put our arm around our veterans and tell them how proud we are of what they have done.”

The Taliban said they had taken control of Panjshir province north of Kabul, the last stand of anti-Taliban forces in the country and the only province the Taliban failed to capture in their lightning strike in Afghanistan last month.

Thousands of Taliban fighters overran eight districts of Panjshir overnight, according to witnesses from the region who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Panjshir was now under the control of Taliban fighters.

The anti-Taliban forces were led by former Vice President Amrullah Saleh and the son of anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed a few days before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 in the USA.

Nestled in the towering Hindu Kush mountains, the Panjshir Valley has a single narrow entrance.

Local fighters stopped the Soviets there in the 1980s and, a decade later, the Taliban under the leadership of Massoud.

Mr Massoud’s son, Ahmad, issued a statement on Sunday calling for an end to the fierce fighting over the past few days.

The young UK-trained Mr Massoud said his troops were ready to lay down their arms but only if the Taliban agree to end their attack.

Late on Sunday, dozens of Taliban-laden vehicles were seen swarming into the Panjshir Valley.

There was no statement from Mr. Saleh, the former vice president of Afghanistan, who declared himself incumbent president after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15 when the Taliban reached the gates of the capital.

The Taliban broke into the presidential building that day.

In his statement, Mr. Mujahid attempted to reassure Panjshir residents that they are safe – although dozens of families reportedly fled to the mountains before the Taliban arrived.

“We give full confidence to the honorable people of Panjshir that they will not face any discrimination, that all are our brothers and that we serve one country and one common purpose,” said Mujahid in his statement.

The Taliban stepped up attack on Panjshir on Sunday and tweeted that their troops had overrun Rokha district, one of the largest of the province’s eight districts.

Several Taliban delegations tried to negotiate with the objectors there, but the talks did not succeed.

Fahim Dashti, the spokesman for the anti-Taliban group, was killed in a battle on Sunday, according to the group’s Twitter account.

Mr. Dashti was the voice of the group and a prominent media personality during previous governments.

He was also the nephew of Abdullah Abdullah, a senior former government official involved in negotiations with the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan.

At least four planes chartered to evacuate hundreds of people trying to escape the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan have not been able to leave the country in days, officials said on Sunday as pressure mounts on the US, those left behind to flee to help.

An Afghan official at the airport in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif said the passengers were Afghans, many of whom had no passports or visas and were therefore unable to leave the country.

He said they left the airport while the situation was resolved.

However, the top Republican on the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs said the group also included Americans and they were on the planes, but the Taliban did not allow them to take off and were effectively holding them hostage.

He did not say where this information came from.

It was not possible to reconcile the accounts immediately.

The final days of the US 20-year war in Afghanistan were marked by a harrowing airlift at Kabul airport to evacuate tens of thousands of people, Americans and their allies who, given the history of repression by the Taliban, feared what the future would bring for women .

When the last troops withdrew on August 30th, however, many remained behind.

The US promised to continue to work with the new Taliban rulers to bring in those who want to get out, and the militants promised to allow anyone with the correct legal documents to leave.

But Texas representative Michael McCaul told Fox News Sunday that US citizens and Afghan interpreters were being held on six planes.

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