KABUL/WASHINGTON: Taliban insurgents tightened their grip on captured Afghan territory on Tuesday, now controlling 65% of the country, as US President Joe Biden urged the nation’s leaders to fight for their homeland.
Pul-e-Khumri, capital of the northern province of Baghlan, fell to the Taliban on Tuesday evening, according to residents who reported Afghan security forces retreating toward the Kelagi desert, home to a large Afghan army base.
Pul-e-Khumri became the seventh regional capital to come under the control of the Islamist militants in about a week.
“Afghan leaders have to come together,” Biden told reporters at the White House, saying the Afghan troops outnumber the Taliban and must want to fight. “They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”
The US president said he does not regret his decision to withdraw, noting that Washington has spent more than $1 trillion over 20 years and lost thousands of troops. He said the United States continues to provide significant air support, food, equipment and salaries to Afghan forces.
The north for years was Afghanistan’s most peaceful region, with only a minimal Taliban presence. The militants’ strategy appears to be to take the north, and border crossings in the north, west and south, and then close in on Kabul.