Taliban sweep across Afghanistan’s south, take 4 more cities

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban have completed their sweep of Afghanistan’s south. They took four more provincial capitals Friday in a lightning offensive that brought them closer to Kabul, just weeks before the U.S. is set to officially end its two-decade war.

In just 24 hours, the country’s second- and third-largest cities, Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south, have fallen.

The capital of southern Helmand province has also been taken. Helmand was the site of some of the bloodiest battles fought by American, British and NATO forces in the past 20 years.

The Taliban now control more than two-thirds of Afghanistan.

The last-minute decision to send 3,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to help partially evacuate the U.S. Embassy is calling into question whether President Joe Biden can meet his deadline for fully withdrawing by the end of the month.

The vanguard of a Marine contingent arrived in Kabul on Friday and most of the rest of the 3,000 are due by Sunday.

Officials have stressed that the newly arriving troops’ mission is limited to assisting the evacuation, and they expect to complete it by Aug. 31. But that could change if the embassy is threatened by a Taliban takeover of Kabul by then.

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