Afghanistan: Taliban seize provincial capitals

Taliban forces dramatically stepped up their rapid advance across Afghanistan over the past days, seizing 11 capitals of the country's 34 provinces. First, on Aug. 6, Zaranj, capital of Nimruz province in the southern Taliban heartland, fell to the insurgents. But then they switched the offensive to the north, taking Sheberghan, Jawzjan province; Sar-e-Pul and Kunduz, of their respective eponymous provinces; Taluqan, Takhar province; Aybak, Samangan province; Farah, Farah province; Pul-e-Khumri, Baghlan province; and Faizabad, Badakhshan province. Herat and Ghazni, a strategic southern gateway to the national capital Kabul, were the most recent to fall, on Aug. 12. The northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif is besieged, and India's military is mobilizing an airlift to evacuate the country's nationals there. Kandahar, back in the Taliban's southern heartland, is also the scene of heavy fighting, as is Lashkar Gah, capital of adjoining province of that name.

Disturbing reports of Taliban violence against communities now under their control were condemned by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who on issued an urgent call for a return to peace negotiations in Doha. The High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement that there is "fear and dread" across Afghanistan. Women have been flogged and killed in areas overrun by the Taliban, while journalists and human rights defenders had also been attacked and slain. 

Reports of violations that "could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity" have emerged, including "deeply disturbing reports" of the summary execution of surrendering government troops. Thousands of civilians are fleeing toward Kabul ahead of the Taliban advance. More than 359,000 Afghans have been displaced this year, bringing the total internally displaced in the country to over 5 million. (Al Jazeera, Al JazeeraReuters, CNNLiveMint, UN News)

US sends 3,000 troops back into Afghanistan

The US is deploying 3,000 troops to Afghanistan in order to facilitate the drawdown of the embassy in Kabul to a "core diplomatic presence," as Taliban militants rapidly advance toward the Afghan capital. (CNBC)

Kandahar, Mazar fall to Taliban

The Taliban on Aug. 14 captured Mazar-i-Sharif, the country's fourth-largest city. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the city's former eigning warlord, had fled the province and his whereabouts is unknown.The Taliban has made significant advances in recent days, including capturing Herat and Kandahar, the country’s second- and third-largest cities. It has now seized control of about 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces since Aug. 6. (Al Jazeera)

Jalalabad falls to Taliban

The Taliban seized the city of Jalalabad early Aug. 15, cutting off Afghanistan's increasingly isolated capital Kabul to the east. Jalalabad's defenders reportedly surrendered without a fight after mediation by local tribal leaders. (AP, Reuters, BBC World Service)

Taliban enter Kabul

President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has reportedly fled the country and the US embassy is being evacuated by helicopter as the Taliban penetrate the perimeter of Kabul. Negotiations are said to be underway between the Taliban and collapsing government forces for a transfer of power. (NYT, ReutersKhaama

Taliban in Afghanistan's presidential palace

With President Ashraf Ghani having fled into exile, Taliban leaders have reportedly entered Afghanistan's presidential palace—apparently invited by the head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah (Ghani's longtime rival), ostensibly to negotiate a transfer of power. (Khaama, Axios)