The Taliban have taken the strategic Afghan city of Ghazni, just 150 kilometers (95 miles) from Kabul, a senior lawmaker and the insurgents said Thursday.
The city – the 10th provincial capital to fall to insurgents within a week – lies along the major Kabul-Kandahar highway and effectively serves as a gateway between the capital and strongholds to the south.
“The Taliban took control of key areas of the city – the governor’s office, the police headquarters and the prison,” Nasir Ahmad Faqiri, head of the provincial council, told AFP.
He added that fighting continued in parts of the city, but that the provincial capital was largely in the hands of the insurgents.
The Taliban also confirmed the capture of the city, according to a statement by the insurgents’ spokesman on social media.
The Afghan conflict has escalated dramatically since May, when US-led troops entered the final phase of a troop withdrawal that was set to end later this month after a 20-year occupation.
The loss of the Ghazni is likely to put more pressure on the country’s already overstretched air force needed to bolster Afghanistan’s dispersed security forces, which are increasingly cut off from road reinforcements.
In less than a week, the insurgents have captured 10 provincial capitals and have now surrounded the largest city in the north, the traditional anti-Taliban bastion of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Fighting also raged in Kandahar and Lashkar Gar, pro-Taliban heartlands to the south, and Herat to the west.
In late Wednesday, the Taliban claimed to have flooded the heavily fortified prison in Kandahar, saying it had been “completely captured after a long siege” and that “hundreds of prisoners were released and taken to safety”.
The Taliban regularly target prisons to release captured fighters and replenish their ranks.
The loss of the prison is a further ominous sign for the country’s second city, which has been under siege by the Taliban for weeks.
The city was once the stronghold of the Taliban – whose forces united in the province of the same name in the early 1990s – and its capture would be both a huge tactical and psychological victory for the militants.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)