The resurgent Taliban reportedly took control of four other provincial capitals on Friday as the militant group’s offensive continues to draw closer to Kabul, where the United States is rushing to evacuate “thousands” of American citizens and Afghan interpreters, according to officials.
The latest blow has been the loss of the capital of Helmand province, where US, British and NATO allied forces have fought some of the bloodiest battles of the past 20 years. Taliban forces have captured half of the country’s 34 provincial capitals in recent days, including its second and third largest cities, Herat and Kandahar.
“It all collapses in no time,” a US Army officer told Fox News on Thursday.
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Officials separately told Fox News that the US military would help evacuate “thousands” of US citizens and Afghan interpreters from Kabul.
While the capital Kabul is not yet directly threatened, losses and advances elsewhere further strengthen the Taliban’s grip.
The latest U.S. military intelligence assessment suggests Kabul could come under insurgent pressure within 30 days and, if current trends continue, the Taliban could take full control of the country within months, according to the Associated Press.
On Friday, in the south of the county, insurgents swept the capitals of the provinces of Zabul and Uruzgan, in addition to that of Helmand.
Attaullah Afghan, the head of the Helmand Provincial Council, said the Taliban captured Lashkar Gah after weeks of fierce fighting and hoisted their white flag above government buildings. He said three national army bases outside Lashkar Gah remain under government control.
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Atta Jan Haqbayan, the head of the provincial council of Zabul province, said the local capital of Qalat fell and officials were in a nearby military camp preparing to leave.
Bismillah Jan Mohammad and Qudratullah Rahimi, lawmakers in Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan, said local officials handed Tirin Kot over to the Taliban. Mohammad said the governor was heading to the airport to leave for Kabul.
In the west of the country, Fazil Haq Ehsan, head of the provincial council of Ghor province, said his capital, Feroz Koh, had also fallen to insurgents.
Thousands of people have fled their homes amid fears the Taliban could bring Afghanistan back to the kind of brutal and repressive regime it imposed when in power at the turn of the millennium. At that time, the group virtually eliminated women’s rights and carried out public executions for enforcing a ruthless version of Islamic law.
An early sign of such tactics came in Herat, where insurgents paraded two suspected looters through the streets on Friday with black makeup smeared on their faces.
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Qatar peace talks remain at a standstill, although diplomats are still meeting, as the United States, European and Asian countries have warned that any government established by force will be rejected.
But the Taliban’s advance continued on Friday as they entered the capital of Logar province, just 80 kilometers south of Kabul.
Hasibullah Stanikzai, head of the Logar Provincial Council, said fighting was still ongoing inside Puli-e Alim, with government forces holding the police headquarters and other security facilities. He spoke to the AP by phone from his office, and gunshots could be heard in the background. The Taliban said they captured the police headquarters and a nearby prison.
The attack represents a staggering collapse of Afghan forces after the United States spent nearly two decades and $ 830 billion trying to establish a functioning state. US forces overthrew the Taliban in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, which Al Qaeda planned and executed while under the shelter of the Taliban government.
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Taliban fighters now advancing across the country ride American-made Humvees and carry M-16s stolen from Afghan forces.
Biden decided in April to end U.S. military involvement in the war, and the pullout is expected to be completed by Aug.31.
Lucas Tomlinson of Fox News and Associated Press contributed to this report.
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