An Afghan lawmaker says the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, has fallen to the Taliban after the insurgents launched a major assault there earlier in the day.
The lawmaker from Balkh, Abas Ebrahimzada, says the province’s national army corps surrendered first, which then prompted the pro-government militias and other forces to lose morale and give up in the face of Friday’s onslaught.
Balkh is the second-largest province in Afghanistan and its capital, Mazar-i-Sharif, is the fourth-largest city.
According to the lawmaker, all of the provincial installations and government offices, including the governor’s office, are now in Taliban hands.
The Taliban seized three more provinces Saturday and approached the outskirts of Afghanistan’s capital while also launching a multipronged assault on a major northern city defended by former warlords.
The insurgents have captured much of northern, western and southern Afghanistan in a breakneck offensive less than three weeks before the US is set to withdraw its last troops, raising fears of a full militant takeover or another Afghan civil war.
The Taliban captured all of Logar province, just south of the capital, Kabul, and detained local officials, said Hoda Ahmadi, a lawmaker from the province. She said the Taliban have reached the Char Asyab district, just 11 kilometers (7 miles) south of Kabul.
The insurgents also captured the capital of Paktika, bordering Pakistan, according to Khalid Asad, a lawmaker from the province. He said fighting broke out in Sharana early Saturday but ended after local elders intervened to negotiate a pullout. He said the governor and other officials surrendered and were on their way to Kabul.
The Taliban also took control of Maimana, the capital of northern Faryab province, said Fawzia Raoufi, a lawmaker from the province. Maimana had been under siege for a month, and Taliban fighters entered the city days ago. Security forces finally surrendered Saturday, she said.
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