Taliban fighters took control of another city in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, an official said, the eighth provincial capital to fall to the insurgents in six days as U.S.-led foreign forces complete their withdrawal.
The Taliban capture of Faizabad, capital of the northeastern province of Badakhshan, came as President Ashraf Ghani flew in to Mazar-i-Sharif to rally old warlords to the defence of the biggest city in the north as Taliban forces close in.
Jawad Mujadidi, a provincial council member from Badakhshan, said the Taliban had laid siege to Faizabad before launching an offensive on Tuesday.
"Unfortunately, after hours of heavy fighting the ANDSF retreated," Mujadidi told Reuters, referring to national security forces. "With the fall of Faizabad the whole of the northeast has come under Taliban control."
Badakhshan borders Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.
The loss of the city is the latest setback for the government, which has been struggling to stem the momentum of Taliban assaults in the last few months.
The Taliban are battling to defeat the U.S-backed government and reimpose strict Islamic law. The speed of their advance has shocked the government and its allies.
Taliban forces now control 65% of Afghanistan and have taken or threaten to take 11 provincial capitals, a senior EU official said on Tuesday.
U.S. President Joe Biden urged Afghan leaders to fight for their homeland, saying on Tuesday he did not regret his decision to withdraw, noting that the United States had spent more than $1 trillion over 20 years and lost thousands of troops.
The United States was providing significant air support, food, equipment and salaries to Afghan forces, he said.
The United States will complete the withdrawal of its forces this month in exchange for Taliban promises to prevent Afghanistan being used for international terrorism.
The Taliban promised not to attack foreign forces as they withdraw but did not agree to a ceasefire with the government. A commitment by the Taliban to talk peace with the government side has come to nothing as they eye military victory.
Some Afghans feel abandoned as the United States and other Western powers withdraw, leaving the Taliban to make their move.
"The U.S. did not provide support ... now we see the result," Dawlat Waziri, a retired general and military analyst, told Reuters.