The Taliban seized three more provincial capitals in Afghanistan and a local army headquarters, completing their blitz across the country’s northeast and pressing their offensive elsewhere, officials said Wednesday. The insurgents now control some two-thirds of the nation as the U.S. and NATO finalize their withdrawal after a decades-long war there.
The fall of the capitals of Badakhshan and Baghlan provinces to the northeast and Farah province to the west put increasing pressure on the country’s central government to stem the tide of the advance, even as its lost a major base in Kunduz. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rushed to Balkh province, already surrounded by Taliban-held territory, to seek help in pushing back the insurgents from warlords linked to allegations of atrocities and corruption. He also replaced his army chief of staff.
While the capital of Kabul itself has not been directly threatened in the advance, the stunning speed of the offensive raises questions of how long the Afghan government can maintain control of its countryside. The multiple fronts of the battle have stretched the government’s special operations forces — while regular troops have often fled the battlefield — and the violence has pushed thousands of civilians to seek safety in the capital.
The U.S. military, which plans to complete its withdrawal by the end of the month, has conducted some airstrikes but largely has avoided involving itself in the ground campaign. The Afghan government and military did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the losses.
The success of the Taliban offensive also calls into question whether they’d ever rejoin long-stalled peace talks in Qatar aimed at moving Afghanistan toward an inclusive interim administration as the West hoped.
Humayoon Shahidzada, a lawmaker from the western province of Farah, confirmed Wednesday to The Associated Press his province’s capital of the same name fell. Neighboring Nimroz province was overrun in recent days after a weeklong campaign by the Taliban.
In Farah, Taliban fighters dragged the shoeless, bloody corpse of one Afghan security force member through the street, shouting: “God is great!” Taliban fighters carrying M-16 rifles and driving Humvees and Ford pickup trucks donated by the Americans rolled through the streets of the capital.
“The situation is under control in the city, our mujahedeen are patrolling in the city,” one Taliban fighter who did not give his name said, referring to his fellow insurgents as “holy warriors.”