The Taliban have captured another two provincial capitals in southern Afghanistan as they press a lightning offensive that is gradually encircling the government in the capital, Kabul.
The provincial council chief in Kabul province told The Associated Press on Friday that the local capital fell to the Taliban and that officials are in a nearby army camp preparing to leave. Another Afghan official says the Taliban have captured Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern province of Helmand.
The loss of Helmand’s provincial capital comes after years of toil and blood spilled by American, British and allied NATO forces. Estimates suggest those countries lost some 800 troops over the decades-long war there.
The insurgents have taken more than a dozen provincial capitals in recent days and now control more than two-thirds of the country just weeks before the U.S. plans to withdraw its last troops.
Afghanistan’s rapidly advancing Taliban insurgents entered a western provincial capital, an official said Friday, hours after they captured the country’s second and third largest cities in a lightning advance just weeks before America is set to end its longest war.
The seizure of Kandahar and Herat marks the biggest prizes yet for the Taliban, who have taken 12 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals as part of a week-long blitz.
While the nation’s capital, Kabul, isn’t directly under threat yet, the losses and the battles elsewhere further tighten the grip of a resurgent Taliban, who are estimated to now hold over two-thirds of the country and continue to press their offensive.
With security rapidly deteriorating, the United States planned to send in 3,000 troops to help evacuate some personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Separately, Britain said about 600 troops would be deployed on a short-term basis to support British nationals leaving the country, and Canada is sending special forces to help evacuate its embassy.