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 insurgents earlier captured six other provincial capitals in the country in less than a week.
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.
Speaking to journalists Tuesday, a senior EU official said the insurgents held some 230 districts of the over 400 in Afghanistan. The official described another 65 in government control while the rest were contested.
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 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.
The rapid fall of wide swaths of the country to the Taliban raises fears that the brutal tactics they used to rule Afghanistan before will also return.
Some civilians who have fled Taliban advances have said that the insurgents imposed repressive restrictions on women and burned down schools. There have also been reports of revenge killings in areas where the Taliban have gained control.
After a 20-year Western military mission and billions of dollars spent training and shoring up Afghan forces, many are at odds to explain the collapse.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.