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Taliban captures sixth Afghan provincial capital as govt forces reel

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The Taliban seized near total control over another provincial capital in northern Afghanistan on Monday, local and security officials said, a day after the insurgent group took three others, including the strategic and economically important city of Kunduz.

It is the sixth provincial capital to have fallen in a matter of days as Taliban forces, emboldened by the departure of U.S. troops from the country, have sped up their campaign across Afghanistan.

Fighting on the outskirts of Aybak, the capital of Samangan Province, began on Monday morning as the Taliban pushed into the city, having toppled a nearby district two days earlier. By the afternoon, most of the city was under insurgent control, and most government forces had fled. “Aybak fell to the Taliban, and all officials and security forces retreated,” said Assadullah, a dispatcher at Samangan Police headquarters who uses just one name. “Now I am hiding in the city.” Raaz Mohammad Mowahid, a member of the Samangan provincial council, said that the city had collapsed but that there had not been much fighting between government troops and the Taliban. “Security forces retreated to a mountain to the south,” Mowahid said.

Aybak sits on the main highway that connects Kabul, the country’s capital, to Afghanistan’s northern provinces. The city’s fall means that the Taliban have effectively placed a stranglehold on much of Balkh Province and its immensely important capital, Mazar-i-Sharif. Nazir Ahamad, a cellphone seller in the city, said that the Taliban had seized all of the government buildings in Aybak and that shops were closed. Hundreds of prisoners were also released from the jail. “The Taliban entered without a gunshot,” he said.

Contributing to the collapse of the city on Monday was the defection of a former member of Parliament and prominent militia commander who joined the Taliban, bringing hundreds of fighters with him, two officials said. The move spread panic in the Afghan forces ranks as Taliban fighters closed in.

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