The Taliban have seized Ghazni, a key Afghan city only 150 kilometers from Kabul, according to a senior lawmaker and the militants.
The city sits along the main Kabul-Kandahar highway, essentially acting as a gateway between the capital and militant strongholds in the south. It is the tenth province capital to fall to militants in a week.
The governor’s office, the police headquarters, and the jail were all taken over by the Taliban, according to Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, the chairman of the provincial council.
He went on to say that although combat was still going on in certain areas of the city, the Taliban had essentially taken control of the province capital.
According to a statement made on social media by a Taliban spokesperson, the city has been captured.
Since May, when US-led troops started the last step of a military withdrawal that is set to conclude later this month after a 20-year occupation, the Afghan conflict has escalated.
The loss of the Ghazni would likely put even more strain on Afghanistan’s already overworked airforce, which is required to support the country’s dispersed security forces, who are increasingly cut off from reinforcements by road.
In less than a week, the rebels have taken control of ten provincial capitals and have surrounded the country’s largest city, Mazar-i-Sharif, the traditional anti-Taliban stronghold.
Fighting was also raging in the pro-Taliban heartlands of Kandahar and Lashkar Gar in the south, as well as Herat in the west.
The Taliban claimed late Wednesday that they had seized control of Kandahar’s highly guarded jail, claiming that it had been “completely conquered after a long siege” and that “hundreds of prisoners were released and taken to safety”.
Prisons are often targeted by the Taliban in order to free imprisoned militants and replenish their ranks.
The Taliban have been besieging the country’s second city for weeks, and the loss of the jail is just another grim indication.
The city was previously a bastion of the Taliban, whose troops consolidated in the province of the same name in the early 1990s, and its conquest would be a major tactical and psychological triumph for the militants.