The Taliban has continued assaults on major Afghan cities, reportedly capturing the nine provincial capitals in less than a week. The US earlier said it will press the militants to stop their attacks during peace talks in Qatar.
The militants have seized Faizabad, the capital of the northwestern Badakhshan province, bordering Tajikistan, after several days of intense fighting, during which both sides suffered heavy losses, local lawmaker Zabihullah Attiq told AFP.
Another local politician, Ahmad Jawid Mojadadi, confirmed the loss of the town to the New York Times.
Faizabad became the ninth provincial capital to fall as a result of Taliban assaults in less than a week. The other two cities captured on Tuesday were Farah, the center of the region of the same name, and the capital of Baghlan, Pul-i-Khumri.
According to Pajhwok Afghan News, government forces are now controlling only two out of nine northern capitals, Maimana and Mazar-i-Sharif, a regional economic hub that has been surrounded and cut off from Kabul. Heavy fighting also continues in southern Kandahar and Helmand province.
The Taliban has been rapidly gaining ground amid the withdrawal of US troops, which is set to be completed by the end of this month. The Pentagon vowed to continue its support for the government in Kabul after US soldiers leave and has recently stepped up airstrikes against the militants.
Despite assurances from Washington, there is a growing fear that without American boots on the ground, Afghanistan will be overrun by the Taliban.
Current and former US officials, who spoke with the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, said on Tuesday that Kabul, the seat of the Afghan government, could fall a lot sooner than the US military feared weeks ago. They said it could happen anytime ranging from within a month after American troops leave to as soon as six months after the withdrawal.
“Everything is moving in the wrong direction,” a person familiar with the military’s new intelligence assessment was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, peace talks resumed in Doha, Qatar on Tuesday. The US State Department earlier said its envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, will press the militants to end their offensives.
A Taliban spokesperson was quoted as telling Al Jazeera that the group remains committed to the negotiations and does not want them to collapse.
The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, ejecting the Taliban from Kabul and other major cities. However, the war has dragged on for nearly two decades. The fighting continued even after a peace deal was signed between the US and the militants early last year.
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