Security forces are engaged in a fierce battle against the Taliban across Afghanistan as President Ashraf Ghani prepares to meet his U.S. counterpart, Joe Biden, at the White House later on June 25.
Afghan officials told RFE/RL on June 25 that there had been heavy fighting in the northern provinces of Baghlan, Kunduz, Balkh, Takhar, and Faryab, as well as in Paktia and Zabul in the southeast in the past 24 hours, as security forces launched offensives against the Taliban.
The militant group has taken control of dozens of districts from government forces in recent weeks, raising concerns the Western-backed government in Kabul and the battered Afghan security forces may collapse after U.S.-led international forces withdraw from Afghanistan by a self-imposed September 11 deadline.
A Defense Ministry spokesman said that Afghan forces had recaptured nine districts from the insurgents over the past day, and that operations had been launched in other districts captured by the militants in recent weeks.
More than 200 Taliban fighters were killed in ground operations supported by air strikes, according to the spokesman, Fawad Aman.
Local leaders confirmed that three districts in the provinces of Paktia, Baghlan, and Faryab had been retaken by government forces.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that the group had lost control over districts, claiming in turn that it had captured four more districts in Baghlan, Faryab, and elsewhere.
Abdul Zahir Faizzada, the governor of Ghor Province, said security forces had withdrawn from the province's Dolina district.
As Afghanistan faces growing uncertainty with the looming exit of U.S. and international troops and the Taliban's recent gains on the ground, Ghani and other Afghan officials will be looking for assurances of U.S. aid for the Afghan government in their meeting with Biden.
The U.S. military says it has already withdrawn more than half of its 3,500 troops from the region and its equipment.
Citing unidentified U.S. officials, AP reported on June 24 that about 650 U.S. troops were expected to remain in Afghanistan to provide security for diplomats after the main military force completes its withdrawal.
During a visit to Paris on June 25, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban's actions were "totally inconsistent" with the pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the Afghan conflict.
"We're looking very carefully at the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and we're also looking very hard at whether the Taliban is at all serious about a peaceful resolution of the conflict," Blinken told a joint news conference with the French foreign minister.
Already slowing, the peace talks between Afghan government officials and the Taliban, launched in Qatar in September 2020, largely broke off when Biden announced the pullout of U.S. forces by September 11 following a May 1 deadline the previous U.S. administration had agreed with the insurgents.
"Had we not begun the process of drawing down...the status quo would not have helped...the status quo was not an option," Blinken said.