Taliban militants have overrun the second provincial capital in Afghanistan in the space of two days, local officials have confirmed.
The insurgent group captured the provincial capital Sheberghan, in northern Jawzjan province, provincial deputy governor Abdul Qadir said.
Witnesses said Taliban fighters had taken over the governor’s office, the police headquarter, the central prison in the city and other key buildings.
However, pro-government forces were still holding some areas, including the airfield while a significant body of troops were remaining loyal and staying at their posts.
There has been heavy fighting between the Taliban and pro-government forces in the outskirts of the city for weeks. On Friday, Taliban fighters broke into key areas in the city but they were pushed back.
The city is considered the main gateway to the country’s northern and northeastern regions.
With an estimated 132,000 inhabitants, Sheberghan is also the home of one of Afghanistan’s factional leaders, Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former vice-president, and one of the main figures in the anti-Taliban alliance.
Marshal Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, returned to Kabul on Wednesday after a lengthy absence for medical treatments in Turkey. Forces loyal to Dostum formed the main resistance against the Taliban in the province.
While the Taliban was capturing Sheberghan, Dostum was meeting with President Ashraf Ghani to discuss the country’s security situation, especially in the northern province, a presidential statement said.
The time has come to improve the country’s security situation and defend Afghanistan’s values, Dostum was quoted in the statement as saying.
Former Afghan general Atiqullah Amarkhail believes that the fall of Sheberghan will damage the morale of government forces because Dostum is considered an extremely powerful anti-Taliban figure.
Following the collapse of the city of Zaranj on Friday in southwestern Nimroz province, Sheberghan is the second provincial capital to fall since the US and its allies began withdrawing from the country.