The Taliban made rapid advances and captured three regional capitals in Afghanistan over the weekend as they continue to make sweeping territorial gains.
Having captured large swathes of the countryside, they are now targeting strategic towns and cities, the BBC is reporting.
They seized control of the key northern city of Kunduz on Sunday, as well as Sar-e-Pul and Taloqan. The three cities fell to Taliban control within hours of each other on Sunday, with one resident in Kunduz describing the situation as “total chaos”.
It means five regional capitals have fallen to the militants since Friday, with Kunduz being their most important gain this year. The city is well connected to other important areas, including the capital Kabul.
The Afghan government, meanwhile, said its forces were fighting to retake key installations.
Heavy fighting has also been reported in Herat in the west, and in the southern cities of Kandahar and Lashkar Gah.
In captured towns, it is being reported that the Taliban has reverted to the kind of behaviour their leaders promised was a thing of the past, particularly its treatment of women.
They are kidnapping and forcibly marrying off teenage girls and young women to its fighters, according to the UK’s Mail on Sunday.
The newspaper says that whenever they capture a new town or district, they issue orders through the local mosques for the names of wives, widows, and daughters of local government and police personnel to be brought to them.
They then take as many young women as they can find to be married to their militants as “war booty”, local residents and officials told the newspaper.
Terrified families fearing the Taliban’s advance have been sending their women and girls to safer areas, including the capital Kabul, to prevent them being taken by the Taliban and married off.
Fundamentalist warriors have also been shuttering girls’ schools in towns it takes over. Women cannot leave their homes without wearing a burqa, and must be chaperoned by a male adult relative, the report said.
Witnesses told the Mail of the group’s sexual slavery activities after it took control of the remote district of Saighan, in the central highlands of Bamyan province.
According to local residents, the Taliban went door to door looking for women and girls and demanded residents open their wardrobes so they could determine the ages of family females by looking at the clothes inside.
Baes Sakhizada, 28, a maths teacher in Saighan, sent his wife, sister, and cousin, out of the town before the Taliban arrived. In full burqas, the women were driven 150 miles away, sometimes going through Taliban checkpoints.
Sakhizada said: “Everyone got their women out of Saighan, especially the young girls. They were the first to be evacuated.”
The three women returned to their homes after local militia forces managed to drive the Taliban out after four days of heavy fighting.
Now they live in fear knowing the group will soon return.