Kabul [Afghanistan], August 9 (ANI): The Taliban on Sunday seized Kunduz - a significant military prize after capturing the provinces of Takhar, Jawzjan, and Nimroz due to a vacuum left by US troop withdrawal.
In a major blow to the Afghan government, the Taliban seized control of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, reported CNN.
Taliban forces mostly overran the provincial capital city of Sar-e-Pul, also in the country's north, marking another loss for the government amid a series of unprecedented advances by the insurgency in its 20-year war.
A member of the Sar-e-pul provincial council told CNN the city had fallen to the Taliban and that one remaining army base containing Afghan security forces was surrounded by Taliban fighters.
The Taliban said in a statement that they had taken the city. CNN has been unable to independently verify the group's claims.
Earlier in the day, a member of the Kunduz provincial council confirmed to CNN that most of the provincial capital had fallen to the Taliban.
The Taliban said that all parts of the city were under its control, adding that it had also seized armoured vehicles, weapons and military equipment. CNN could not independently confirm the Taliban's claims.
Heavy fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces in the city on Saturday killed at least 11 civilians and wounded 40, according to Kunduz health director, Dr Ehsanullah Fazli.
Provincial council member Gholam Rabani Rabani told CNN both sides had suffered casualties on Saturday during fighting on the outskirts of the city, and that the total number of fatalities was still unclear.
Meanwhile, in Kunduz, the Afghan Defense Ministry said commandos had taken back control of the city's General Raziq Square and the headquarters of the Kunduz National Radio and TV as fighting in the province continues.
Kunduz is the third of four provincial capitals that the Taliban has captured in recent days. The Taliban briefly captured Kunduz in 2015 and again in 2016, before being pushed out by Afghan security forces.
The city of Zaranj, near the Iranian border, became the first provincial capital to fall into Taliban control on Friday. The following day, the insurgents seized Sheberghan, the provincial capital of Jawzjan, near the border of Turkmenistan.
The Taliban have captured Takhar province's capital Taluqan city on Sunday amid US troops' withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The string of victories that the Taliban is gaining has shocked many. There are fears even the national capital, Kabul, could fall.
The US has ramped up airstrikes against Taliban positions over the past week in a bid to halt the insurgents' advances as its drawdown of troops continues.
"US forces have conducted several airstrikes in defense of our Afghan partners in recent days," Maj. Nicole Ferrara, a US Central Command spokesperson, told CNN Sunday, sidestepping a question about the targets of the strikes.
The US Embassy in Kabul criticized the Taliban's offensive on Afghan cities on Sunday, saying its actions to "forcibly impose its rule are unacceptable and contradict its claim to support a negotiated settlement in the Doha peace process. They demonstrate wanton disregard for the welfare and rights of civilians and will worsen this country's humanitarian crisis."
Meanwhile, amid heavy clashes between the Taliban and Afghan forces, the US Embassy in Kabul urged American citizens to leave the country "immediately using available commercial flight options."
The UK's Foreign Office had also updated its advice on Friday, telling its nationals to leave Afghanistan by commercial means. (ANI)