The Taliban has claimed to have taken Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-biggest city, in what would be a major blow to Afghan government forces.
Citing witnesses, the Associated Press reported the Taliban had seized the governor’s office and other buildings. The witnesses declined to be named publicly as the government had not yet acknowledged the defeat.
“Kandahar is completely conquered. The Mujahideen reached Martyrs’ Square in the city,” a Taliban spokesman tweeted on an officially-recognised account, AFP news agency reported, adding that a city resident confirmed the Taliban was in control of the city.
Reuters news agency later reported an unnamed government official saying the city, once a Taliban stronghold, had fallen but government forces remained in control of the airport.
Earlier, residents and local journalists reported Herat, the country’s third-largest city, had fallen to the armed group. Ghazni, about 130km (80 miles) southwest of the national capital, Kabul, also fell on Thursday.
The Taliban has taken at least 11 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals over the past week. If confirmed, Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold, would be the 12th.
Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis, reporting from the capital Kabul, said the capture of Herat was a “major scalp” for the Taliban, and a “huge loss” for government forces, as the armed group continued its sweeping military advance across Afghanistan amid pullout of foreign troops after 20 years of war.
“The Taliban has been on a huge offensive this evening, claiming scalps in the west, potentially in the east, and pushing incredibly hard in the South,” she reported.
Meanwhile, a government source tells Al Jazeera the Afghan government has offered the Taliban a share in power so long as the rising violence in the country comes to a halt.