KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban entered two provincial capitals in northern Afghanistan Sunday, native officers mentioned, the fruits of an rebel offensive that has overrun dozens of rural districts and compelled the give up and seize of a whole bunch of presidency forces and their army gear in latest weeks.

In Kunduz metropolis, the capital of the province of the identical identify, the Taliban seized the town’s entrance earlier than dispersing all through its neighborhoods. Kunduz was briefly taken by the Taliban in 2015 and 2016 earlier than they have been pushed again by American airstrikes, particular operations forces and Afghan safety forces.

“Proper now, I hear the sound of bullets,” mentioned Amruddin Wali, a member of Kunduz’s provincial council. “The Taliban have appeared within the alleys and again alleys of Kunduz, and there may be panic all around the metropolis.”

The setbacks come at a harrowing second for Afghanistan. American and worldwide troops — now principally based mostly in Kabul, the capital, and at Bagram airfield, are set to go away the nation in weeks following President Biden’s announcement in April to finish the U.S. struggle within the nation by Sept 11.

To the west of Kunduz in Maimana, the capital of Faryab Province, Taliban fighters appeared on the metropolis’s entrance earlier than shifting into the town’s periphery. The Taliban clashed with safety forces into Sunday night time, after a collection of takeovers in previous days within the capital’s surrounding districts. In a single such latest battle, the Taliban killed more than 20 of the federal government’s most elite forces. In one other, dozens of presidency troops surrendered collectively after working low on ammunition.

The looming U.S. withdrawal means Afghan troops shall be left with out the form of fight assist that has stopped such Taliban offensives previously.

“If reinforcements come from Kabul, and plane assist the safety forces, the Taliban can not enter the town,” mentioned Sebghatullah Selab, the deputy of Faryab’s provincial capital. There was additionally preventing on Sunday close to the doorway of Taliqan, the capital of Takhar, a province that neighbors Kunduz.

U.S. air assist in previous weeks has been considerably lowered due to restrictive guidelines of engagement, and lots of American army plane at the moment are based mostly outdoors Afghanistan. Afghan air energy is struggling to make up the distinction.

On Friday, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, is to fulfill President Biden on the White Home to debate the U.S. troop withdrawal.

Within the final 24 hours, round a dozen districts have fallen to the Taliban — principally within the nation’s north. Since Could 1, when U.S. forces formally started their withdrawal from the nation, the Taliban — by means of native mediation, army offensives and authorities retreats — have taken greater than 50 districts, based on knowledge collected by The New York Instances.

Solely a small variety of districts have been retaken by authorities forces because the defeats have compelled Afghan commanders to contemplate what territory they’ll maintain following the American departure.

However Rohullah Ahmadzai, a protection ministry spokesman, told Al Jazeera Saturday, “There’s a new, sturdy and efficient plan to retake areas from which we now have pulled again our forces.”

There are roughly 400 districts within the nation, a lot of which have been contested and managed by the Taliban for a while. However earlier than the U.S. withdrawal started, solely a handful of districts had exchanged arms within the final 12 months. Prior to now, many such takeovers performed out with the Taliban seizing territory that was later retaken by the federal government.

In Could, Taliban forces entered Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province within the nation’s south. Afghan forces and U.S. airstrikes managed to push the insurgents again.

The present state of affairs doesn’t bode properly for presidency forces and militias beneath the command of northern Afghanistan’s energy brokers, a few of whom are infamous warlords who’ve held onto energy because the nation’s civil struggle within the Nineteen Nineties and the U.S. invasion in 2001.

These militia forces, usually primarily made up of ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazaras, have lengthy seen the north as their stronghold from the Taliban, a primarily Pashtun group that rose within the south.

Even with adjoining militia forces, authorities troops are low on morale and are incessantly besieged in remoted outposts and bases that may be resupplied solely by the Afghan air drive. The small group of pilots and plane are going through their own array of issues as worldwide forces and upkeep contractors depart the nation.

On Saturday, in a transparent signal of the deteriorating safety state of affairs, the Afghan authorities appointed a brand new appearing minister of protection, minister of inside and armed forces chief.

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