Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) – The Taliban seized control of the city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, Afghan Member of Parliament Gul Ahmad Kamin told CNN on Friday, as the insurgent group continues its rapid advance toward the capital, Kabul.
Kandahar, which is located in the south of the country, has been besieged by the Taliban for weeks, and its fall is seen by many observers as the beginning of the end of the country’s government backed by the United States.
In a statement on Friday, the Taliban said they had taken control of the governor’s office, police headquarters and 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 gone to a military base near the city’s international airport and were waiting for a flight. “Many (government) soldiers surrendered and the rest fled,” Kamin said.
Kamin had previously told CNN that Taliban fighters had managed to break through the city’s front line and were engaging in sporadic clashes with government forces.
Kandahar, which is located at the junction of three major highways, is of particular strategic importance and was previously a major center of US military operations. His seizure marks the most significant victory yet for the Taliban, who have already taken control of 13 of the country’s 34 provincial capitals.
The vast majority of the Taliban’s territorial gains have come since the withdrawal of US forces, which began in May and is scheduled to be completed in late August.
Rapid advance of the Taliban
The city of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city and a major urban center in western Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban on Thursday night local time, and the group seized control of the governor’s office and barracks. police general, according to Afghan officials.
The city of Qala-I-Naw, the provincial capital of the northwestern province of Badghis, also fell to the group on Thursday night, a member of the Badghis provincial council confirmed to CNN.
The city of Ghazni, a key provincial capital on the way to Kabul, also fell to the group Thursday morning after “long and intense fighting,” according to Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, head of the Ghazni provincial council.
Ghazni is located about 150 kilometers south of Kabul, on a main road that connects the capital with Kandahar.
With the capture of Ghazni, the Taliban now control key locations both north and south of Kabul. Its earlier capture of areas of Baghlan province, which is located north of Kabul, raised alarms among US officials because the location is considered essential for the defense of the capital.
A senior Biden administration official familiar with a US intelligence assessment said Kabul could be cut off by the Taliban in the next 30 to 60 days, increasing the potential for the Afghan capital to soon fall under the group’s control.
In response to the radical advance of the Taliban, the United States announced that it would deploy 3,000 US troops to Kabul to assist with a “reduction of civilian personnel at the embassy in Kabul” and to “facilitate the processing of” special immigrant visas for Afghan citizens who assisted the Americans during their stay in Afghanistan, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Two of the infantry battalions heading to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul are from the US marines and another is from the military, Kirby said. The Defense Department will also bring in an additional 1,000 personnel from both the U.S. Army and Air Force to assist with visa applicants, Kirby said.
Early Thursday, the US embassy in Kabul again urged US citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately.