US President Joe Biden has urged Afghanistan’s leaders to fight for their homeland as the Taliban armed group tightens its grip on the country’s territory.
“Afghan leaders have to come together,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Tuesday, adding the Afghan troops outnumber the Taliban and must want to fight.
“They have got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”
The US president said he does not regret his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, noting that Washington has spent more than $1 trillion over 20 years and lost thousands of soldiers.
He said the US continues to provide significant air support, food, equipment and salaries to Afghan forces.
Meanwhile, the Taliban seized three more provincial capitals in Afghanistan, officials said on Wednesday, putting nine of the nation’s 34 in the armed group’s hands.
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.
The group has captured the provincial capitals Faizabad, Farah, Pul-e-Khumri, Sar-e-Pul, Sheberghan, Aybak, Kunduz, Taluqan and Zaranj.
The Taliban has already gained vast parts of rural Afghanistan since launching a series of offensives in May to coincide with the start of the final withdrawal of foreign forces.
A senior European Union official said on Tuesday that Taliban forces now control more than 65 percent of Afghanistan, threaten to take 11 provincial capitals and seek to deprive Kabul of its traditional support from national forces in the north.
Afghan map ‘changing by the day’
Reporting from Kabul, Al Jazeera’s Rob McBride said Afghanistan’s map was “changing by the day”.
“It is not a pretty picture from the government’s point of view, and especially when it looks at the north of the country and the areas it used to control. Mazar-i-Sharif, a very strategic city, seems to be the only stronghold under its control in the north of the country now,” he said.
McBride said there has been an uptick in fighting in the south as President Ashraf Ghani flew to Mazar-i-Sharif in the north to meet with local leaders “to try to boost morale”.
“By the same token, the Taliban has now created momentum, albeit in the countryside, where many warlords believe they are in the ascendancy,” said McBride.
The north for years was Afghanistan’s most peaceful region, with only a minimal Taliban presence. The group’s strategy appears to be to take the north, and border crossings in the north, west and south, and then close in on Kabul.
In Qatar, peace talks continue as part of an effort by the international community to bring stability and security to Afghanistan.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from the Qatari capital Doha, said if the current round of talks is successful, there might be an announcement of intra-Afghan peace talks.
“Now the Taliban has the wind at its back and diplomats are wondering if they were serious about coming to Doha and negotiating,” he said, adding that “everything remains an open question” on the second day of the three-day talks.
The Taliban is battling to defeat the US-backed government and reimpose its rule.
A spokesman for the group’s political office in Doha told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that it is committed to the path of negotiation and does not want the talks to collapse.
The US has been carrying out some air raids to support government troops. Department of Defense spokesman John Kirby said the raids were having a “kinetic” effect on the Taliban but acknowledged limitations.
“Nobody has suggested here that air strikes are a panacea, that will solve all the problems of the conditions on the ground. We’ve never said that,” Kirby said.
Taliban and government officials confirmed that the armed group have overrun several provincial capitals in recent days in the north, west and south.
Gulam Bahauddin Jailani, head of the Afghan national disaster authority, told Reuters news agency that fighting was going on in 25 of 34 provinces and 60,000 families had been displaced over the past two months, with most seeking refuge in Kabul.
Six EU member states warned the bloc’s executive against halting deportations of rejected Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Europe, fearing a possible replay of a 2015-2016 crisis over the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers, mainly from the Middle East.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said reports of violations that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity were emerging, including “deeply disturbing reports” of the summary execution of surrendering government troops.