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Afghan President Taps New Defense, Interior Ministers

Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal gives an interview to RFERL in January.

Afghanistan's president has introduced two nominees to head the Defense and Interior ministries at a crucial juncture for the country, with Taliban militants winning ground and foreign forces embarked on a complete withdrawal by September.

President Ashraf Ghani said he nominated General Bismillah Mohammadi as defense minister to replace Asadullah Khalid after two years in that post.

He picked Abdul Sattar Mirzakwal, a former governor of several provinces including Kunduz, to head the Interior Ministry.

Both will be acting ministers pending their approval by parliament.

The reshuffle comes with Taliban insurgents piling up victories in the provinces, where they have wrested control of dozens of districts since U.S. and other foreign troops formally began their withdrawal on May 1.

Local officials said on June 19 that at least six more districts -- in the provinces of Takhar, Faryab, Jawzjan, Samangan, Farah, and Paktia -- had fallen into militant hands in less than a week.

A recent UN report contrasted the recent government losses with all of last year, when five districts were lost to militants and four of them recaptured within days.

Spiraling violence has compounded the international frustration over stalled peace talks between the Taliban and the Western-backed government.

U.S.-led international forces are scheduled to leave the country by September 11, ending a two-decade conflict begun after Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden planned the 9/11 attacks on the United States from his Afghan hideout.

Based on reporting by dpa