Key Afghan cities on brink of Taliban takeover as US and NATO troops pull out

ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports on the areas that could soon fall to the Taliban

Key cities in Afghanistan are under threat of being overrun by the Taliban as American and NATO forces complete their withdrawal.

Taliban fighters assaulted at least three key cities - Kandahar, Herat and Helmand Province's capital Lashkar Gah - a state of affairs the Afghan president said is due to the United States' decision to pull out.On Monday, President Ashraf Ghani told Parliament “an imported, hasty” peace process - a reference to Washington’s push for negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban - “not only failed to bring peace but created doubt and ambiguity” among Afghans.

Hours after the president’s remarks, Taliban fighters seized control of Helmand Province’s government radio and TV building. Resident Haji Sadullah said they broadcast religious songs and invited people to follow their path for close to an hour on both AM and FM frequencies.

Since the international pull-out was announced in spring , the Taliban has been advancing across the Afghanistan's rural areas before assaulting key cities. Fighters are also trying to seize several key border crossings with neighboring countries.

The government has hung onto very little beyond the country's centre and its capital, Kabul.

Mr Ghani's criticism of the US comes as the Biden administration announced it is expanding its efforts to assist at-risk Afghan citizens.

The Afghan president on Monday blamed the American troops’ speedy pullout for the worsening violence in his country. Credit: AP

The State Department said it is widening the scope of Afghans eligible for refugee status to include current and former employees of US-based news organisations, US-based aid and development agencies and other relief groups that receive US funding.

Current and former employees of the US government and the NATO military operation who don’t meet the criteria for a dedicated program for such workers are also covered. However, the move comes with a major caveat that may severely limit the number of people who can benefit: applicants must leave Afghanistan to begin the adjudication process that may take 12-14 months in a third country. The US does not intend to support their departures or stays there.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged the difficulties that applicants would face, but said the US remains committed to seeking a peaceful and secure Afghanistan.

Afghans carry the body of civilians killed during fighting between the Taliban and security forces. Credit: AP

“This is incredibly hard,” he told reporters.

“It is hard on so many levels, it’s hard to pick up and leave everything you know (and) it’s hard to get yourself to a place where you can take advantage of what opportunities exist to see to apply for refugee status.

"We recognise that this is. Alas, this is the case for millions of people around the world who find themselves in very difficult situations and particularly in Afghanistan now.” Relief agencies said Monday’s gesture was insufficient, pointing out significant, and in some cases insurmountable, hurdles that successful applicants would face. InterAction, an umbrella organisation for scores of international relief and development groups, was highly critical. “InterAction feels that this is unacceptable, as several critical border crossing checkpoints are now under Taliban control and Afghanistan’s neighbors may not necessarily welcome these individuals and their families,” it said.

“Requiring at-risk Afghans to first become internationally displaced before applying for visas further endangers the Afghan people who have partnered with the United States.”