The Taliban on Sunday seized the key provincial capital of Kunduz and neighboring provincial capitals of Sar-e-pul and Taliqan as U.S. troops are set to fully withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of the month. File Photo by M. Sadiq/EPA-EFE
Aug. 8 (UPI) -- The Taliban seized three provincial capitals in Afghanistan on Sunday, including the major strategic commercial hub of Kunduz.
Sayed Jawad Hussaini, deputy police chief of a district in Kunduz, described the situation as "critical," saying all Afghan security forces fled to the airport while the northern capitals of Sar-e-pul and Taliqan also fell to Taliban control, The New York Times reported.
"We are so tired, the security forces are so tired," Hussaini said. "At the same time we hadn't received reinforcements and aircraft did not target the Taliban on time."
A member of the Kunduz provincial council told CNN that most of the capital had fallen to the Taliban, while the Afghan Defense Ministry said commandos had taken back control of the city's General Raziq Square and the headquarters of the Kunduz National Radio and TV.
The Taliban in unconfirmed claims said all parts of the city were under their control and that they had seized armored vehicles, weapons and military equipment.
The Taliban previously captured the city of Kunduz, a vital hub for trade and road traffic near the border of Tajikistan with a population of 374,000, for brief periods in 2015 and 2016 before being pushed back by Afghan forces.
After taking Kunduz, Taliban forces moved Taliqan, the capital of the Takhar province.
Takhar provincial council member Keramatullah Rustaqi told The New York Times that security forces left Taliqan to retreat to the neighboring district of Farkhar.
"A large number of the Taliban came from Kunduz and the districts of Takhar to capture Taliqan city, and there is fighting in four directions," said Karimullah Bek, a pro-government militia commander. "We need reinforcements."
A member of the Sar-e-pul provincial council also told CNN the city had been claimed by the Taliban with just one remaining army base containing Afghan security forces surrounded by Taliban fighters.
With the United States set to complete its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan on Aug. 31, the Taliban has sought to expand its grip on the region, capturing Naranj, the capital of Nimruz province, on Friday and assassinating the government's top media official.
Responding to questions about Taliban advances on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden had "difficult choices" to make regarding Afghanistan but was steadfast in his plan to complete the withdrawal.
"The president made clear: After 20 years at war, it's time for American troops to come home," Psaki said. "And as he said at the time, the status quo was not an option. The Taliban was prepared to attack U.S. and NATO troops after May 1, which was the deadline for our departure."