KABUL: The Taliban say they have no plans to take the Afghan capital “by force.”
The insurgents issued the statement Sunday as their fighters entered the outskirts of Kabul.
Panicked workers fled government offices and helicopters began landing at the US Embassy, as the militants further tightened their grip on the country.
Three Afghan officials told The Associated Press that the fighters were in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman in the capital. The militants earlier took Jalalabad, near a major border crossing with Pakistan, the last major city other than Kabul not under their control.
The militants themselves didn't acknowledge the advance, though they earlier took Jalalabad, near a major border crossing with Pakistan, the last major city other than Kabul not under their control.
In a nationwide offensive that has taken just over a week, the Taliban has defeated, co-opted or sent Afghan security forces fleeing from wide swathes of the country, even with some air support by the U.S. military.
The rapid shuttle-run flights of Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters near the embassy began a few hours later as diplomatic armored SUVs could be seen leaving the area around the post. The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to questions about the movements. However, wisps of smoke could be seen near the embassy's roof as diplomats urgently destroyed sensitive documents, according to two American military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the situation.
Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which typically carry armed troops, later landed near the embassy as well.
The Czech Republic also approved a plan to begin withdrawing their Afghan staff from their embassy after earlier taking their diplomats to Kabul International Airport.
President Ashraf Ghani, who spoke to the nation Saturday for the first time since the offensive began, appears increasingly isolated as well. Warlords he negotiated with just days earlier have surrendered to the Taliban or fled, leaving Ghani without a military option. Ongoing negotiations in Qatar, the site of a Taliban office, also have failed to stop the insurgents' advance.
Thousands of civilians now live in parks and open spaces in Kabul itself, fearing the future. Some ATMs stopped distributing cash as hundreds gathered in front of private banks, trying to withdraw their life savings.
Gunfire erupted at one point, though the Afghan presidency sought to downplayed the shooting.
“The defense and security forces along with the international forces working for the security of Kabul city and the situation is under control,” the presidency said amid the chaos.
Militants posted photos online early Sunday showing them in the governor's office in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province.
Abrarullah Murad, a lawmaker from the province told The Associated Press that the insurgents seized Jalalabad after elders negotiated the fall of the government there. Murad said there was no fighting as the city surrendered.
The militants took also Maidan Shar, the capital of Maidan Wardak, on Sunday, only some 90 kilometers (55 miles) from Kabul, Afghan lawmaker Hamida Akbari and the Taliban said. Another provincial capital in Khost fell later Sunday to the Taliban, said a provincial council member who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The fall Saturday of Mazar-e-Sharif, the country’s fourth largest city, which Afghan forces and two powerful former warlords had pledged to defend, handed the insurgents control over all of northern Afghanistan.
Atta Mohammad Noor and Abdul Rashid Dostum, two of the warlords Ghani tried to rally to his side days earlier, fled over the border into Uzbekistan on Saturday, said officials close to Dostum. They spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to publicly speak about his movements.
Writing on Twitter, Noor alleged a “conspiracy” aided the fall of the north to the Taliban, without elaborating.