The Taliban have captured a second provincial capital in Afghanistan in less than 24 hours.
The militants seized Sheberghan in Jawzjan province on Saturday, according to the deputy governor Qader Malia.
Fierce fighting continued for days over the city.
“The city has unfortunately fallen completely,” the official told AFP.
He said government forces and officials had retreated to the airport on the outskirts of the city.
Sheberghan became the second provincial capital that fell to the militant group since Friday, when Zaranj city in Nimroz was overtaken. The Nimroz deputy governor Roh Gul Khairzad said Zaranj had fallen “without a fight.”
Social media posts showed the militants and some residents of the city were riding US military Humvees, luxury SUVs, and pickup trucks through the streets.
According to officials, the militants opened the gates of a local jail and freed Taliban prisoners along with common criminals.
“The Afghan security forces lost their morale due to intense propaganda by the Taliban,” a senior official from the city, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
“Even before the Taliban attacks... most of the security forces put their weapons on the ground, took off their uniforms, and left their units and fled.”
The Taliban, which already control large portions of the countryside, are now fighting for other provincial capitals including Herat, near the western border with Iran, and Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in the south.
Meanwhile, fresh fighting was reported from the northern city of Kunduz, where government forces were “defending seriously.”
They were using airstrikes against Taliban mortars and heavy weapons, activist Rasikh Maroof told AFP.
On Friday, the United Nations’ envoy to Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, called on the Taliban to cease its attacks on major cities immediately, warning that the country was heading for “catastrophe, so serious that it would have few, if any parallels in this century.”
She said countries meeting with Taliban representatives should “insist on a general ceasefire” and a resumption of negotiations.
The Taliban are now demanding “the lion’s share of power” in any new government in Afghanistan, according to the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who warned on Tuesday that Afghanistan’s situation was rapidly deteriorating.