The Taliban have captured Afghanistan’s second biggest city of Kandahar, officials said on Friday, in the most significant setback for the US-backed government since the insurgents launched a new offensive as US forces withdraw.
“Following heavy clashes late last night the Taliban took control of Kandahar city,” a local government official told Reuters after the militants announced they had taken it.
Government forces were still in control of Kandahar’s airport, which was the U.S. military’s second biggest base in Afghanistan during their 20-year mission.
The capture of Kandahar and Herat – the country’s second and third largest cities – would represent the Taliban’s two most significant victories since they began a broad offensive in May as U.S.-led foreign forces withdrew under a deal struck between the militants and the United States last year.
Britain said it would deploy around 600 troops to help its citizens leave while other embassies and aid groups said they too were getting their people out.
“It’s best to reduce our foot-print not just because there’s an increasing threat of violence but also resources,” an official at the Turkish embassy in Kabul said on Friday.
“Medical facilities are under massive pressure. We also are mindful of Covid and testing has almost come to a pause.” The speed of the Taliban offensive have sparked recriminations among many Afghans over President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops, 20 years after they ousted the Taliban in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Biden said this week he did not regret his decision, noting Washington has spent more than $1 trillion in America’s longest war and lost thousands of troops.
The Taliban have focussed their offensive on the north, a region they never fully controlled during their 1996-2001 rule, and the heartland of Northern Alliance forces who marched into Kabul with U.S. support in 2001.
On Thursday, the Taliban also seized the historic central city of Ghazni, 150 km (90 miles) southwest of Kabul, before over-running Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south, according to the Taliban and media.
The Taliban also claimed to have captured Lashkar Gah in the south and Qala-e-Naw in the northwest.