The Taliban captured the city of Sheberghan, the second Afghan provincial capital to fall to the armed group in less than 24 hours, the city’s deputy governor said.
Qader Malia, the deputy governor of Sheberghan in Jawzjan province, said on Saturday that government forces and officials had retreated to the airport on the outskirts of the northern Afghan city, where they were preparing to defend themselves.
“The city has unfortunately fallen completely,” Malia told the AFP news agency.
“The [government] forces and officials have retreated to the airport.”
Provincial councillor Bismillah Sahil said the Taliban fighters had taken over key buildings such as the governor’s office, the police headquarters and the central prison in the city.
However, the pro-government forces were still holding some areas inside the city such as the airport and an army brigade, according to Mohammad Karim Jawzjani, a parliamentarian who represents Jawzjan.
The city is home to notorious strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum, who returned to Afghanistan this week only after medical treatment in Turkey.
Dostum has overseen one of the largest militias in the north, which garnered a fearsome reputation in its fight against the Taliban in the 1990s along with accusations that his forces massacred thousands of prisoners of war.
On Saturday, Dostum held a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the presidential palace.
A palace statement quoted Dostum as saying that “it is time to stand alongside” the security forces and to “stand against the enemy”.
The Taliban has gained vast parts of rural Afghanistan since launching a series of offensives in May to coincide with the start of the final withdrawal of foreign troops.
On Friday, Zaranj in Nimruz province fell to the Taliban “without a fight”, according to its deputy governor, becoming the first provincial capital to be taken by the armed group.