Fighting in Afghanistan’s Kandahar region has become “extremely intense” amid the continued insurgence of the Taliban in the country.
It comes after warnings the capital Kabul could fall within the next 90 days, with the hardline Islamist group now controlling around 65% of Afghanistan.
In Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city which is situated 480km (300 miles) south-west of Kabul, citizens are fleeing violence as the Taliban threatens to take control of the region.
The city’s Sarposa prison has also been overrun, with the Taliban releasing around 1,000 prisoners – thought to be held on political grounds.
Taliban officials said that it is now in control of the facility, with staff surrendering and offering up their ammunition.
An aid worker in the area told Reuters that “fighting did not stop until 4am and then after the first prayers, it started up again”, while a doctor said the hospital has seen scores of bodies of armed forces members and wounded Taliban fighters as a result of the “extremely intense” fighting.
The group has now taken 10 local provincial capitals as it continues its assault towards Kabul.
It includes the capture of Ghazni city on Thursday, just 80 miles south-west of Kabul, where insurgents launched a number of attacks.
Fighting was still ongoing on the outskirts of the city. However, Afghan officials told the Associated Press news agency Taliban fighters were raising their flags and the city had calmed after hours of heavy fighting.
The battle for control of Lashkar Gah, west of Kandahar in Helmand Province, continues too – where the Taliban have captured a police headquarters.
The government previously insisted it remained in control of both areas, but the Islamist group has claimed it has now taken over the areas.
Heading into the capital, access to Kabul through the nearby valleys was packed with civilians trying to get into the city amid the rapid gains made by the Taliban, but there are fears that suicide bombers and insurgents could be among them.
On Wednesday, David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, warned the West not to take its eyes off Afghanistan as the Taliban’s forces continue to make gains after British and US troops were withdrawn.
The former British foreign secretary said: “The time when troops were there was not used to develop a stable political settlement for the country and the great fear for the moment is that the gains being enjoyed by the people are on the rack.”
Mr Miliband said 5,000 civilians were killed in the most recent fighting, 30,000 people a week are fleeing the country, and 350,000 people are homeless.
He added the refugee danger is “real and present” to neighbouring states, with 100,000 leaving Afghanistan each month and going into Pakistan and Iran.
The US Air Force appears to be carrying out air strikes to support Afghan forces, with data suggesting that B-52 bombers and F-15 jets were among the aircraft involved in fighting overnight.
However, it is not clear what casualties or damage the strikes caused.
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