Afghanistan: Insurgents are capitalising on final stages of withdrawal of US-led foreign forces. (File)Kabul, Afghanistan:
The Taliban captured two more provincial capitals Sunday as they gained ground in their fight to take over Afghanistan's cities after seizing much of the countryside in recent months.
The insurgents have snatched up four provincial capitals since Friday in a rapid offensive that appears to have overwhelmed government forces.
Kunduz and Sar-e-Pul in the north fell within hours of each other Sunday, lawmakers and residents in the cities confirmed, but not without fierce fighting.
A Kunduz resident described the city as being enveloped in "total chaos".
"After some fierce fighting, the mujahideen, with the grace of God, captured the capital of Kunduz," the Taliban said in a statement.
"The mujahideen also captured Sar-e-Pul city, the government buildings and all the installations there."
Parwina Azimi, a women's rights activist in Sar-e-Pul, told AFP by phone that government officials and the remaining forces had retreated to a barracks about three kilometres (two miles) from the city.
"A plane came... but could not (land)," she said.
Kunduz, however, is the most significant Taliban gain since the insurgents launched an offensive in May as foreign forces began the final stages of their withdrawal.
It has been a perennial target for the Taliban, who briefly overran the city in 2015 and again in 2016 but never managed to hold it for long.
The ministry of defence said government forces were fighting to retake key installations.
"The commando forces have launched a clearing operation. Some areas, including the national radio and TV buildings, have been cleared of the terrorist Taliban," it said in a statement.
Kabul's inability to hold the north may prove crucial to the government's long-term survival.
The region continues to be home to several militias and is also a fertile recruiting ground for the country's armed forces.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)