Taliban seize three more provincial capitals and key military base from Afghan forces

ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo explains how the Taliban continue to gain more control over Afghanistan

Three more provincial capitals in Afghanistan have been captured by the Taliban, with the insurgents now controlling almost two-thirds of the nation.

The fall of the capitals of Badakhshan and Baghlan provinces to the northeast and Farah province to the west put increasing pressure on the country’s central government to stem the tide of the advance.

Nine of the nation’s 34 provincial capitals are now in the Talibans' hands, with the insurgents also occupying giants swathes of the countryside.

Taliban fighters in the city of Farah Credit: AP

On Wednesday the Afghan forces also lost a key military base in Kunduz, another important city that has fallen to the Taliban in recent days.

The loss of the military base at Kunduz airport represents a major setback for the government forces and is only one of seven such bases across the country.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has rushed to Balkh province, already surrounded by Taliban-held territory, to seek help pushing back the insurgents from warlords who have been linked to allegations of atrocities and corruption.

The rapid advance of the Taliban in recent weeks has raised questions over whether the Afghan government can halt the advance.

The multiple fronts of the battle have stretched the government’s special operations forces - while regular troops have often fled the battlefield - and the violence has pushed thousands of civilians to seek safety in the capital.

Footage from Kunduz in Afghanistan shows the city falling to the hands of the Taliban, ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports

The US military, which plans to complete its withdrawal by the end of the month, has conducted some airstrikes but has largely avoided involving itself in the ground campaign.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are now refugees in their own country, fleeing the fighting or the brutality of Taliban rule.

Families have flowed into Kabul living in parks and streets with little food or water.

Some civilians who have fled Taliban advances have said the insurgents imposed repressive restrictions on women and burned down schools.

There have also been reports of revenge killings in areas where the Taliban have gained control.

A Taliban fighter says the group has taken over the governor's house and police headquarters in Kunduz Credit: UGC

The United Nations said people are "living in fear and dread" and women are being killed and shot for breaching rules on what they can wear and where they can go without a male escort.

It called on the international community to prioritise peace in Afghanistan.

But the Afghan army, which was supposed to secure this peace, is failing. The US, its most important ally, shows no sign of reversing its decision to leave the battlefield.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday reiterated President Joe Biden's insistence the previous day that the Afghans "have got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation".

Ms Psaki said: "We will continue to provide close air support, making sure that Air Force functions are operable. We will continue to resupply their forces with food and equipment, pay all their salaries in addition to all of the assistance we've provided over the last 20 years.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

"I'd also note, and this is a question that came up yesterday, that the train, advise and assist approach that we have been implementing and the range of assistance we've provided was done in coordination with military leaders and the implementation and designing of that plan with military leaders and civilian leaders in Afghanistan over the last several years.

"So our larger point here is ultimately the Afghan National Security Defense Forces have the equipment, numbers and training to fight back. They have what they need.

"What they need to determine is if they have the political will to fight back and if they have the ability to unite as a as leaders to fight back. And that's really where it stands at this point."

Afghans inspect a damaged building after air strikes in Lashkar Gah Credit: Abdul Khaliq/AP

Asked about an assessment from an anonymous US official that the Afghan government could collapse in as little as 90 days, Ms Psaki said the country only relies on intelligence assessments made by the US government.

She said: "We are closely watching the deteriorating security conditions in parts of the country. But no particular outcome, in our view, is inevitable."

With regards to a possible negotiated political settlement, she said: "The Taliban also has to make an assessment about what they want their role to be in the international community.

"And I know that Ambassador Khalilzad made comments when he was at the political negotiations yesterday making clear that the international community is going to watch closely how the Taliban behaves."

Debris at a clinic damaged by the air strikes Credit: Abdul Khaliq/AP

Mr Biden said on Tuesday: "I'll insist we continue to keep the commitments we made, providing close air support, making sure their air force functions and is operable, resupplying their forces with food and equipment and paying all their salaries, but they've got to want to fight."

After a 20-year Western military mission and billions spent training and shoring up Afghan forces, many are at odds to explain why the regular forces have collapsed, fleeing the battle sometimes by the hundreds.

The fighting instead has fallen largely to small groups of elite forces and the Afghan air force.