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Taliban nears takeover of Afghanistan

The Taliban effectively surrounded Kabul.

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) — The Taliban raced closer to a complete military takeover of Afghanistan on Sunday after capturing more major cities, leaving only the isolated capital Kabul for them to conquer.

The insurgents took control of the key eastern city of Jalalabad on Sunday, just hours after the seizing the northern anti-Taliban bastion of Mazar-i-Sharif — furthering an astonishing rout of government forces and warlord militias achieved in just 10 days.

“We woke up this morning to the Taliban white flags all over the city. They entered without fighting,” said Jalalabad resident Ahmad Wali, confirming a claim on social media made by the Taliban.

President Ashraf Ghani’s government appeared to be left with few options as the Taliban effectively surrounded Kabul — either prepare for a bloody fight for the capital or capitulate.

On Saturday Ghani sought to project a semblance of authority with a national address in which he spoke of “re-mobilising” the military while seeking a “political solution” to the crisis.

But the loss of Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad are huge back-to-back blows for Ghani and his government.

It left the Taliban — who have fighters less than an hour’s drive from Kabul — holding all the cards in any negotiated surrender of the capital.

President Joe Biden ordered the deployment of an additional 1,000 US troops to help secure the emergency evacuation from Kabul of embassy employees and thousands of Afghans who worked for American forces and now fear Taliban reprisals.

That was on top of the 3,000 American soldiers deployed in recent days, and 1,000 left in-country after Biden announced in May that the final withdrawal of the 20-year military presence in Afghanistan would be completed by 11 September.

That decision has come under increased scrutiny given the collapse of the Afghan armed forces, but he insisted Saturday there was no choice.

“I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth,” Biden said.

Heavy fighting
In Mazar-i-Sharif, Taliban fighters quickly took charge.

“They are parading on their vehicles and motorbikes, firing into the air in celebration,” said Atiqullah Ghayor, who lives near the city’s famed blue mosque.

Warlords Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad Noor, who had led a militia resistance in the city to support government forces, had fled to Uzbekistan, about 30 kilometers to the north, an aide to Noor said.

Noor later tweeted that they had been betrayed by the military and were in a “safe place,” adding: “I have a lot of untold stories that I will share in due course.”

As the Taliban closed in on the capital, panicked residents formed long lines outside banks, hoping to withdraw their savings. Some branches appeared to have already run out of cash.

Residents near Pul-e-Charkhi

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