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KABUL -Taliban insurgents captured the city of Ghazni on Thursday, the ninth provincial capital they have seized in a week, as U.S. intelligence said the capital, Kabul, just 150 km to the northeast, could fall to the insurgents within 90 days.
The speed of the Taliban advance https://graphics.reuters.com/AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT/FLASHPOINTS/lbpgnrazjvq/index.html has sparked widespread recriminations over U.S. President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw U.S. troops and leave the Afghan government to fight alone.
The Taliban control about two-thirds of Afghanistan, with the last of the U.S.-led international forces set to leave by the end of the month, and their guerrilla army has waged war on multiple fronts, resulting in thousands of families fleeing the provinces in hope of finding safety in Kabul and other cities.
A senior security official said the Taliban had captured Ghazni, which is on the highway between Kabul and the second city of Kandahar, and had occupied all of its government agency headquarters after heavy clashes.
"All local government officials, including the provincial governor, have been evacuated towards Kabul," said the official who declined to be identified.
Fighting has also been intense in the southern city of Kandahar. The city hospital had received scores of bodies of members of the armed forces and some wounded Taliban, a doctor said late on Wednesday.
The Taliban said they had captured Kandahar's provincial prison.
"Fighting did not stop until 4 a.m. and then after the first prayers it started up again," said an aid worker in Kandahar.
The Taliban also said they had seized airports outside the cities of Kunduz and Sheberghan in the north and Farah in the west, making it even more difficult to supply beleaguered government forces.
The Taliban said they had also captured the provincial headquarters in Lashkar Gah, the embattled capital of the southern province of Helmand, a hotbed of militant activity.
Government officials there were not immediately available for comment. Fighting had also flared in the northwestern province of Badghis, its governor said.
Bordering Pakistan, Kandahar and other southern and eastern provinces have long been Taliban heartlands but it has been in the north where they have made their biggest gains in recent weeks.
Even when the Taliban ruled the country they never controlled all of the north. This time, they appear to be determined to secure it fully before turning their attention to Kabul.
Government forces have withdrawn from hard-to-defend rural districts to focus on holding main population centres.
Desperate to stem the Taliban advance, President Ashraf Ghani flew to Mazar-i-Sharif to rally old warlords he had previously tried to sideline, now needing their support to defend the biggest city in the north as the enemy closed in.