Kandahar, which lies in the south of the country, has been besieged by the Taliban for weeks, with many observers considering its fall as the beginning of the end for the country’s US-backed government.
In a statement Friday, the Taliban said they had taken control of the governor’s office, police headquarters, as well as other key operational centers throughout the city. “Hundreds of weapons, vehicles and ammunition were seized,” the Taliban statement said.
Kamin said he and many others had made their way to a military base close to the city’s international airport and were awaiting a flight out.
“Many (government) soldiers surrendered and the rest fled,” Kamin said.
Kamin had earlier told CNN that Taliban fighters had been able to break through the city’s frontline and were engaging in sporadic confrontation with government forces.
Kandahar, which lies on the junction of three major highways, is of particular strategic importance and was formerly a major hub for US military operations. Its seizure marks the most significant gain yet for the Taliban, which has now taken control of at least 14 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals.
The vast majority of the Taliban’s territorial gains have come since the withdrawal of American forces, which began in May and is scheduled to be completed by late August.
Taliban makes rapid gains
The city of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city and a major urban center in western Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban on Thursday evening local time, with the group taking control of the governor’s office and Herat police headquarters, according to Afghan officials.
The head of the Herat Provincial Council, Kamran Alizai, said Friday the whole city, except the army corps base, had been seized. Another provincial council member from Herat who did not want to be named said that the Taliban broke into the Herat prison, freeing a large number of inmates.
Qala-I-Naw city, the provincial capital of the northwest Badghis province also fell to the militant group on Thursday evening, a Badghis provincial council member confirmed to CNN.
The city of Ghazni, a key provincial capital on the road to Kabul, also fell to the militant group earlier on Thursday, after “long and intense fighting,” according to Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, head of Ghazni provincial council.
Ghazni lies around 93 miles (150 kilometers) south of Kabul, on a major highway connecting the capital with Kandahar.
With the capture of Ghazni, the Taliban is now in control of key locations both to the north and south of Kabul. Their earlier capture of areas of the Baghlan province, which lies to the north of Kabul, raised alarms among US officials because the location is considered essential for the defense of the capital.
Two of the infantry battalions headed to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul are US Marines and one is US Army, Kirby said. The Defense Department will also bring in an additional 1,000 personnel from both US Army and US Air Force to help with the visa applicants, Kirby said.
Earlier Thursday, the US embassy in Kabul urged US citizens again to depart Afghanistan immediately.
And the gains made by militants overnight added to alarm across the international community. The UK’s defence secretary Ben Wallace on Friday said he is “absolutely worried” that al Qaeda “will probably come back” to Afghanistan after the drawdown of US and British troops is complete.
Challenging the US decision to pull out troops, Wallace said: “I’ve been pretty blunt about it publicly and that’s quite a rare thing when it comes to a United States decisions, but strategically it causes a lot of problems.”
The UK has sent 600 troops to the country to help evacuate embassy staff, while German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer also encouraged support staff to leave the “increasingly threatening” situation in the country quickly.
“There is no time for bureaucracy, we must act,” Seehofer said in a statement Friday.
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