KABUL: The Taliban were in control of six Afghan provincial capitals on Tuesday after a blitz across the north that forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes for the relative safety of Kabul and other centres.
The insurgents now have their eyes on Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in the north, whose fall would signal the total collapse of government control in a region that has traditionally been anti-Taliban.
Government forces are also battling the hardline Islamists in Kandahar and Helmand, the southern Pashto-speaking provinces from where the Taliban draw their strength.
The United States — due to complete a troop withdrawal at the end of the month and end its longest war — has all but left the battlefield. However, its special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been sent to Qatar to try and convince the Taliban to accept a ceasefire.