The Taliban”s advance in Afghanistan continued at a relentless pace on Friday as the armed group claimed to have captured three more important cities from Afghan government forces.
The militants say they have now taken over five provincial capitals over the past two days. They include the country’s second and third-largest cities, Kandahar and Herat.
An Afghan official said on Friday that the Taliban have captured Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern Helmand province. But the head of the provincial council said three army bases outside the city remained under government control.
Helmand was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in the past two decades, with much blood spilt among Western forces.
Afghan lawmakers in the southern Uruzgan province also said officials have surrendered its capital to the rapidly advancing rebel force.
In Zabul province, the provincial council chief said the local capital has fallen to the Taliban and that officials are in a nearby army camp preparing to leave.
Witnesses in Kandahar say the Taliban took control of government buildings, while officials fled the city. The insurgents had previously taken control of Herat and the strategic city of Ghazni earlier, cutting a crucial highway link between Kabul and the south.
Thousands of Afghans continue to flee their homes as they fear the armed group will again impose a brutal and repressive regime.
A dozen major cities fall in week
The rapid Taliban advance across Afghanistan has seen fighters seize more than a dozen provincial capitals in a week.
While Kabul isn’t directly under threat yet, the losses and the battles elsewhere further tighten the grip of a resurgent Taliban.
The militants are now thought to control two-thirds of the country only weeks before the complete withdrawal of US and NATO troops.
John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, announced that Washington will send 3,000 troops to evacuate personnel from the US embassy in Kabul, while many western countries have asked their nationals to leave the country.
“The first movement will consist of three infantry battalions that are currently in the Central Command area of responsibility. They will move to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul within the next 24 to 48 hours. Two of those battalions are the United States Marines and one is the U.S. Army battalion,” Kirby said.
Separately, Britain said about 600 troops would be deployed on a short-term basis to support British nationals leaving the country.
Hopes for diplomatic solution are slowly fading
The new conquests come as a crushing blow for the government and a major win for the militants, as hopes for a diplomatic solution slowly fade.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government are still holding talks in Qatar.
“We hope that the discussions this week in Doha between representatives of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban along with regional and international envoys will restore the pathway to a negotiated settlement to the conflict,” said Stephane Dujarric, the UN secretary-general spokesperson.
The latest US military intelligence assessment estimates that Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and that the Taliban could gain full control of the country within a few months.
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