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Three more Afghan provincial capitals fall to Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan: The Taliban has captured three more provincial capitals, as they take their fight to the cities after seizing much of the countryside in recent months.

The group has seized five provincial capitals in Afghanistan since Friday in a lightning offensive that appears to have overwhelmed government forces.

Kunduz, Sar-e-Pol and Taloqan in the north fell within hours of each other on Sunday, the Taliban and officials in the cities confirmed.

A Taliban statement on Sunday said it has captured the police headquarters, the governor’s compound and the prison in the strategic northeastern city of Kunduz.

Local sources and journalists in Kunduz confirmed that Taliban fighters were present in the capital.

“Heavy clashes started yesterday afternoon, all government headquarters are in control of the Taliban, only the army base and the airport is with ANDSF [Afghan security forces] from where they are resisting the Taliban,” Amrudddin Wali, a member of Kunduz provincial assembly, said.

Health officials in Kunduz said 14 bodies, including those of women and children, and more than 30 injured people have been taken to hospital.

“We don’t know what’s going on outside because all our efforts and attention is on the patients coming in,” a doctor said at a Kunduz hospital.

In a statement on Sunday, the Taliban said its fighters have also captured the city of Sar-e-Pol, the main city of the northern province of Sar-e-Pol.

Related story: Taliban captures Nimruz province’s capital

Mohammad Noor Rahmani, a provincial council member of Sar-e-Pol province said the group has taken government buildings in the northern provincial capital, driving officials out of the main city to a nearby military base.

Parwina Azimi, a women’s rights activist in Sar-e-Pol, told news agencies that government officials and the remaining forces had retreated to an army barracks about 3km (2 miles) from the city.

The Taliban had the compound “surrounded”, Mohammad Hussein Mujahidzada, a member of the provincial council.

On Sunday evening, the Taliban said on Twitter that it had taken Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province.

Taloqan resident Zabihullah Hamidi said that he saw security forces and officials leave the city in a convoy of vehicles.

“We retreated from the city this afternoon after the government failed to send help,” a security source told news agencies. “The city is unfortunately fully in Taliban hands.”

Sunday’s takeovers come after the group seized the provinces of Nimruz and Jawzjan in the last two days.

Kunduz had previously fallen to the group in 2015 and 2016.

On Saturday, the Taliban captured Jawzjan capital Sheberghan, the city’s deputy governor said, a day after Zaranj, capital of Nimruz, fell “without a fight”, according to its deputy governor.

The defence ministry said that on Saturday evening, US B-52 bombers struck several Taliban targets in Sheberghan.