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KABUL -Taliban fighters took control of another city in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, an official said, the eighth provincial capital to fall to the insurgents in six days as U.S.-led foreign forces complete their withdrawal.
The Taliban capture of Faizabad, capital of the northeastern province of Badakhshan, came as President Ashraf Ghani landed in Mazar-i-Sharif to rally its defenders as Taliban forces closed in on the biggest city in the north.
Jawad Mujadidi, a provincial council member from Badakhshan, said the Taliban had laid siege to Faizabad before launching an offensive on Tuesday.
"Unfortunately, after hours of heavy fighting the ANDSF retreated," Mujadidi told Reuters, referring to national security forces.
"With the fall of Faizabad the whole of the northeast has come under Taliban control."
Badakhshan borders Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.
The loss of the city is the latest setback https://graphics.reuters.com/AFGHANISTAN-CONFLICT/FLASHPOINTS/lbpgnrazjvq/index.html for the beleaguered government, which has been struggling to stem the momentum of Taliban assaults https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-cities-taken-over-or-contested-by-taliban-2021-08-10 in the last few months https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/talibans-rapid-advance-across-afghanistan-2021-08-10.
The Taliban are battling to defeat the U.S-backed government and reimpose strict Islamic law. The speed of their advance has shocked the government and its allies.
Taliban forces now control 65% of Afghanistan, have taken or threaten to take 11 provincial capitals and seek to deprive Kabul of its traditional support from national forces in the north, a senior European Union official said on Tuesday.
U.S. President Joe Biden urged Afghan leaders to fight for their homeland, saying on Tuesday he did not regret his decision to withdraw, noting that the United States had spent more than $1 trillion over 20 years and lost thousands of troops.
The United States was providing significant air support, food, equipment and salaries to Afghan forces, he said.
The north was for years Afghanistan's most peaceful region, with only a minimal Taliban presence.
During their 1996 to 2001 rule, the Taliban were never completely in control of the north but this time, they seem intent on securing it before closing in on the capital.
The Taliban had also taken control of borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Russia's Kommersant daily reported, citing Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, heightening security concerns for Moscow.
Shoigu said the Taliban had promised not to cross the border but Russia would continue holding drills with its allies in the region.