Coinciding with the departure of US and NATO troops, the Taliban captured their first provincial capital in Afghanistan since launching an offensive, by taking over the city of Zaranj, a senior official confirmed on Friday, 6 August.
Less than 24 hours later, news agency AFP reported the second Afghan provincial capital, Sheberghan city had also fallen to the militant organisation.
Speaking to AFP, Jawzjan deputy governor Qader Malia said "The (government) forces and officials have retreated to the airport."
Though representatives of the Afghanistan government and Taliban are engaged in negotiations over the militant organisation's increasing control over the country, the dialogue has been largely unsuccessful, with the Taliban seeking complete military dominance over the country, as per reports.
The deputy governor Roh Gul Khairzad was earlier quoted as saying, "The city of Zaranj, provincial capital of Nimroz, has fallen to the Taliban," news agency AFP reported.
Khairzad said the city, near the Iranian border, had fallen "without a fight". Meanwhile, several social media users tweeted videos of the militants roaming the streets.
US Embassy Urges Citizens to 'Immediately Leave Afghanistan'
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Afghanistan issued an emergency security alert and urged US citizens to leave the country immediately, using available commercial transportation.
"Given the security conditions and reduced staffing, the Embassy’s ability to assist US citizens in Afghanistan is extremely limited even within Kabul," the embassy said in an official statement.
Further, it added that it can provide a repatriation loan to US citizens who cannot afford commercial travel to the United States at this point.
Head of the Media Information Department Assassinated
The fall of Zaranj city came on the same day the Taliban claimed responsibility for killing the head of the Afghanistan government's media information department Dawa Khan Menapal.
Days earlier, the insurgents had warned of targeting members of the senior administration in retaliation for increased air strikes.
Reacting to the assassination of Menapal, Interior Ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai, said, "Unfortunately, the savage terrorists have committed a cowardly act once again and martyred a patriotic Afghan," AFP reported.
Menapal’s assassination was followed by another day of fighting, as the war continues to spread and spill into Kabul.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council met in New York to discuss the conflict.
“Afghanistan is at a dangerous turning point. In the past weeks, Afghanistan has entered a new destructive phase. Taliban has achieved significant territorial gains.”Deborah Lyons, UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, as quoted by ANI.
Claiming responsibility for Menapal's death, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was reported as saying, "he was killed in a special attack carried out by mujahideen".
A few days earlier, a failed assassination attempt was made on Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi.
Intensified Air Strikes
As Taliban continues to capture more territory, the Afghan and US militaries have stepped up air strikes in several cities.
While large portions of the countryside are already under Taliban control, the insurgents are now challenging Afghan government forces in many provincial capitals.
Meanwhile, government forces have been conducting air strikes to hit Taliban positions with air strikes and commando raids.
Further, the defence ministry on Friday announced that they have eliminated more than 400 insurgents in the past 24 hours.
Aid group Action Against Hunger said its offices had been hit by an "aerial bomb" in the city earlier this week, as per a statement released on Friday, AFP reported.
Clarifying that no staff had been harmed, the statement added, "The building was marked from the street and roof as a non-governmental (NGO) organisation, and the office location has been communicated often to the parties involved in the conflict."
Almost 20 years after the US' invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban from power in the country, the US is now looking to withdraw the American troops from the nation by the end of August.
The escalating conflict situation in the country has resulted in the deaths of as many as 4,000 people, as well as the internal displacement of over 2 lakh citizens of the country. Almost one-third of the country is actively involved in the fighting.
(With inputs from AFP and ANI)