- Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Afghanistan’s Balkh Province, fell to the Taliban on Saturday.
- Insurgents have carried out a sweeping military campaign in capturing provincial capitals.
- The only two major Afghan cities left under government control are Kabul and Jalalabad.
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The fourth-largest city in Afghanistan and the government’s last northern stronghold fell to the Taliban on Saturday, as insurgents have carried out a sweeping military campaign in capturing provincial capitals over the past few days.
With the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province, the only two major cities left under government control are Kabul and Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar Province, in the eastern part of the country.
The Taliban took over the northern city in “barely an hour after breaking through the front lines at the city’s edge,” according to The New York Times.
After the Taliban overran the city, government security forces and militias quickly departed, ceding control to the insurgents.
“Government forces and popular uprisings all left the city,” Hashim Ahmadzai, a pro-government militia commander, told The New York Times. “The Taliban seized government and military buildings. There was no resistance.”
With the capture of Mazar-i-Sharif, insurgents now effectively oversee the northern, southern, and western parts of the country, with their eye on Kabul, the country’s capital.
While the Taliban accelerated their insurgency in May, they have been successful at gaining control of most of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals in less than two weeks.
According to The Times, the fall of the northern region to the Taliban “offered a devastating blow to morale for a country gripped with panic.”
After the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Balkh Province morphed into “one of the most stable provinces in the country,” according to The Times.
The region’s strategic location near the border with Uzbekistan gave the economy a boost, but in recent years, the stability that was once prevalent in the region deteriorated as Kabul had difficulties with managing provincial leadership and providing the area with an adequate amount of security forces.
President Joe Biden has long sought to end the war in Afghanistan, which has been ongoing for nearly 20 years.
The president on Tuesday stressed that Afghans must “fight for themselves” as the US military remains on track for a full withdrawal by the end of the month.
“Look, we spent over a trillion dollars over twenty years, we trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces,” Biden said at the White House. “Afghan leaders have to come together. They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”
The Pentagon on Thursday said that an additional 3,000 troops would be temporarily sent to Hamid Karzai International Airport to safely evacuate Americans and personnel from the US embassy in Kabul.