Kabul: The Taliban have captured the strategic Afghan city of Ghazni — just 150 kilometres (95 miles) from the capital, Kabul — according to multiple sources.
The city is the tenth provincial capital to fall to the insurgents in the past week. It provides the militants with a route to the capital from their strongholds in the south. Taliban take key headquarters
In Ghazni, the militants seized key government offices, including that of the governor's office and the police headquarters. They also broke into the province's central prison, local officials told the DPA news agency.
The Taliban posted videos and photos online that showed distinguishing features of the city, purporting to show that they were inside.
Government forces were still said to be in control of the city's intelligence headquarters.
The militants had already been holding two of Ghazni's police districts since around mid-July.
Ghazni has an estimated 180,000 inhabitants and sits on an important ring highway that connects the country's largest cities.
Cities fall in quick succession
US defence officials have said the Taliban could isolate Kabul within 30 days and possibly overrun it within 90 days.
The insurgents now control more than a quarter of provincial capitals in Afghanistan, having made rapid territorial gains as the US and its allies withdraw ahead of a September deadline.
Thousands of families have now fled from the provinces to escape violence, hoping to find refuge in Kabul.
Afghan government forces have collapsed even more rapidly than thought possible just a few months ago when US President Joe Biden ordered a full withdrawal.
The Taliban's success has fueled Western fears that the Islamists could come to power by force rather than through long-stalled peace talks aimed at establishing a more moderate interim administration.
German General Egon Ramms, former commander of the NATO joint forces in Afghanistan, told DW he was astonished at the failure of the Afghan army in defending against the Taliban.
"We have trained the Afghan army and the Americans in particular have equipped them quite well," said Ramms. "There must be something wrong with the leadership of the Afghan national army."
"I expected that they would be able to fight against the Taliban and that they at least would have a good possibility to oppose them in a way that they could not move forward that quickly."
New power-sharing terms?
Afghan government negotiators in Qatar are reported to have offered the Taliban a power-sharing deal.
"Yes, the government has submitted a proposal to Qatar as mediator. The proposal allows the Taliban to share power in return for a halt in violence in the country," a source told the AFP news agency.
It remains unclear to what extent the power-sharing offer might differ from the terms already discussed between the Taliban and Kabul in Qatar.