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Afghan president replaces two top ministers, army chief as violence grows

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, speaks in 2020

(Corrects typo in para 4)

KABUL (Reuters) -Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has replaced his defence and interior ministers and the army chief of staff amid rising casualties among Afghanistan's security forces in sharply increased fighting with the Taliban.

The changes, announced late on Saturday by the presidential palace, come as Afghan security forces battle the Taliban in 28 of 34 provinces in the country, with the hardline Islamic group claiming more territory in recent weeks.

Bismillah Khan Mohammadi was appointed as caretaker defence minister replacing Asadullah Khalid, who had recently returned to the country after a prolonged illness while Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal was picked as new interior minister replacing Hayatullah Hayat.

A senior commander under late anti-Soviet resistance hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, Mohammadi has had a long military career and served as interior minister, defence minister and army chief of staff in the government of former president Hamid Karzai.

General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai was appointed as the new chief of army staff, replacing General Yasin Zia, the palace said.

On Friday, 24 members Afghan special forces soldiers were killed and dozens more wounded during a fight to retake a district captured by the Taliban in northern Faryab province, security officials said.

The Taliban has staged a months-long campaign to expand its influence across the country as the United States has begun withdrawing troops from May 1 and closed some bases and handed them over to the Afghan government.

Since the United States announced plans in April to pull out all of its troops by Sept. 11, at least 30 districts have been seized by the Taliban.

A security official speaking on condition of anonymity said there have been extremely high casualties among Afghan security forces, civilians as well as the Taliban in recent weeks as intense fighting rages on. No further details were immediately available.

(Reporting by Kabul Bureau, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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