KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban have completed their sweep of Afghanistan's southern region.
On Friday, they took four more provincial capitals in a lightning offensive that is gradually encircling Kabul, just weeks before the U.S. is set to officially end its two-decade war.
The latest significant blow was the loss of the capital of Helmand province on Friday. American, British and allied NATO forces fought some of the bloodiest battles there in the past 20 years.
The insurgents have taken around half of the country’s 34 provincial capitals in recent days. That includes the country's second- and third-largest cities, Herat and Kandahar.
The Taliban now control more than two-thirds of Afghanistan just weeks before the U.S. plans to withdraw its last troops.
On Thursday, the Pentagon said it’s rushing 3,000 fresh troops to the Kabul airport to help with a partial evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
The move highlights the stunning speed of a Taliban takeover of much of the country, including their capture of Kandahar, the second-largest city and the birthplace of the Taliban movement.
The State Department says the embassy will continue functioning, but Thursday’s dramatic decision to bring in thousands of additional U.S. troops is a sign of waning confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to hold off the Taliban surge.