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Taliban Encircles Northern Afghan City, Captures More Districts

Afghan special forces gather at the battlefield amid clashes with the Taliban in Kunduz Province on June 22.

The Taliban has maintained control of Afghanistan's main border crossing with Tajikistan as the group added to recent gains and pressed an offensive to the outskirts of the northern city of Kunduz.

The militants have wrested control of dozens of districts from government forces in recent weeks as U.S.-led international forces withdraw from Afghanistan ahead of a self-imposed September 11 deadline.

Speaking in the U.S. Congress on June 23, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley said 81 of the country's roughly 400 districts had come under the control of the insurgents. But Milley said 60 of those had been captured last year, before the United States began its final pullout this spring.

In northern Afghanistan, the Taliban on June 22 seized the main border crossing with Tajikistan -- the border town of Shir Khan Bandar.

In a statement, the Taliban said on June 23 that border trade will continue.

About 50 kilometers south of the border, Kunduz city, the capital of Kunduz Province, is encircled by Taliban fighters.

Residents reported heavy fighting and problems with electricity and acquiring supplies.

"The situation is dire. There's fighting on all sides," Kunduz resident Assadullah Zarghood told RFE/RL.

"Shops are closed, people are fleeing, no one has food or water," Abdul Majeed, another resident of the city, said.

If Kunduz falls, it would be the first provincial capital captured by the Taliban.

Kunduz provincial-council member Amruddin Wali warned of a humanitarian crisis if the government doesn't send reinforcements.

"The war has reached the inner city. If the government doesn't send fresh troops, there will be a humanitarian catastrophe in Kunduz," he said.

Afghan government forces have vowed to retake lost territory, while several militias in the north have also begun mobilizing against the Taliban.

The surge in violence comes as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is set to arrive in Washington later this week to meet with President Joe Biden in the White House.

The rapid advance of the Taliban offensive has raised concerns that the Afghan security forces and government may collapse as the U.S. military exits the country after nearly two decades.

With reporting by AFP and dpa
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