Taliban fighters tightened their control of captured territory in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday as residents hid in their homes and a pro-government commander vowed to fight to the death to defend Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in the north.
President Ashraf Ghani called on regional strongmen to support his embattled government after a stunning string of Taliban gains and as the United States said it was up to Ghani’s forces to defend themselves.
In the town of Aibak, capital of Samangan province on the main road between Mazar-i-Sharif and the national capital, Kabul, Taliban fighters were consolidating their grip, moving into government buildings, residents said.
Most members of the government security forces appeared to have withdrawn, residents said, as they kept off the streets.
“The only way is self-imposed house arrest or to find a way to leave for Kabul,” said Sher Mohamed Abbas, a provincial tax office, when asked about living conditions in the town.
“But then even Kabul is not a safe option anymore,” said Abbas, a father of four children and a sole bread winner for a family of nine.
Abbas said Taliban had arrived at his office and told workers to go home. He and other residents said they had not seen nor heard fighting on Tuesday.
The Taliban, battling to defeat the U.S-backed government and reimpose strict Islamic law, swept into Aibak on Monday meeting little resistance.
Taliban and government officials have confirmed that the militants have overrun six provincial capitals in recent days in the north, west and south.
Security forces in Pul-e Khumri, capital of Baghlan province, to the southeast of Aibak, were surrounded as Taliban closed in on the town, at a main junction on the road from the north to Kabul, a security official said.
Gulam Bahauddin Jailani, head of the national disaster authority, told Reuters fighting was going on in 25 of the 34 provinces and 60,000 families had been displaced over the past two months, with most seeking refuge in Kabul.
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