The Taliban’s rapid military operations throughout the country resumed Tuesday, with two more Afghan cities falling to the militants, one of which was just 200 kilometers from Kabul.
Despite the bloodshed, and with eight provincial capitals now under militant control, US President Joe Biden urged Afghan authorities to “come together” and “fight for themselves,” rather than postponing his timetable to remove all American forces by August 31.
“I do not regret my decision” to withdraw US troops after two decades of war, Biden told reporters in Washington.
Officials in both cities told AFP that the militants took control of Farah city, the headquarters of the same-named province, and Pul-e-Khumri in Baghlan, within hours of one other.
“The Taliban are now in the city,” Baghlan MP Mamoor Ahmadzai told AFP.
“They have raised their flag in the main square and on governor’s office building.”
The Taliban confirmed their seizure in separate tweets.
Six other provincial capitals have fallen since Friday, all in the country’s north, with rebels aiming for Mazar-i-Sharif, the region’s largest city.
Its fall would mark the end of government authority in the north, which has historically been anti-Taliban.
The Taliban is also being fought by government troops in Kandahar and Helmand, two southern Pashto-speaking regions whence the Taliban draws its strength.
Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy, was in Qatar trying to persuade the Taliban to accept a cease-fire.
A source told AFP that envoys from the hosts Qatar, the United Kingdom, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, the United Nations, and the European Union were also expected to address the situation in Afghanistan.
The United States has all but abandoned the battleground.
Biden emphasized that the United States will continue to provide airstrikes, food, equipment, and money for wages to Afghan security personnel.
“We trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces” over two decades, he said.
“They have got to want to fight. They have outnumbered the Taliban.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced as a result of the ongoing war.
More than 359,000 people have been displaced by conflict this year alone, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.
Residents in Kunduz, the northern city seized by the Taliban over the weekend, claimed businesses had started to reopen in the city center as the militants concentrated their attention on government troops who had withdrawn to the airport.
“People are opening their shops and businesses, but you can still see fear in their eyes,” said shopkeeper Habibullah.
Another local who lives near the airport said there had been days of intense fighting.
“The Taliban are hiding in people’s houses in the area and government forces are bombing them,” said Haseeb, who only gave his first name.
The Taliban seized Sheberghan to the west and Kunduz and Taloqan to the east on Tuesday, increasing the danger to Mazar-i-Sharif.
The Indian embassy in Mazar has advised its citizens to take a “special flight” later that day.
However, Fawad Aman, a spokesperson for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, claimed Afghan troops held the upper hand in the city, which is a crucial pillar for government control in the north.
The United Nations warned from Geneva that the conflict was causing a new humanitarian catastrophe.
“Unless all parties return to the negotiating table and reach a peaceful settlement, the already atrocious situation for so many Afghans will become much worse,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.