A day after a new US intelligence assessment was reported by The Washington Post as predicting Kabul will likely fall to the Taliban within a one month to 90 day time frame, which is a significant revision down from the six month forecast reported in June, the Taliban has captured a key strategic city and major road which puts it within striking distance of the populous Afghan capital.
Ghazni is the tenth provincial capital to fall, but this time after after a "long and intense fighting" according to local officials (in contrast to many places where there's been little resistance reported). The Taliban subsequently claimed successful seizure of the city in social media messages, which included the capture of the governor's office, a prison and police headquarters, CNN reports.
"All local government officials, including the provincial governor, have been evacuated towards Kabul," a Ghazni city official told international press outlets. Capture of the city puts the Taliban in an offensive position to move on both Kabul and Kandahar, given it sits about 93 miles south of Kabul on a major highway connecting the two, with the latter city being Afghanistan's second largest.
Kandahar in the south has already been under assault for a week, as prisons have been witnessed emptied out which will help continue to bolster Taliban ranks.
It appears to US-backed national government has begun offering the Taliban power-sharing deals as the group gobbles up more and more territory - now standing at 65% of all geographic territory according to the most recent estimate:
Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis, reporting from Kabul, says the governor of Ghazni province has been arrested in the province of Wardak after fleeing Ghazni city through a deal with the Taliban, handing over the city in exchange for a safe passage.
Meanwhile, a government source tells Al Jazeera that the Afghan government has offered the Taliban a share in power so long as the rising violence in the country comes to a halt.
Amid the daily bad news reports of a rapid Taliban offensive to retake the country, President Biden says he has no regrets. "Look," Biden began at a White House press briefing, "we spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years. We trained and equipped, with modern equipment, over 300,000 Afghan forces." He indicated plans remain the same to declare 'mission accomplished' by the highly symbolic 9/11 anniversary.
Map showing Taliban gains as of Thursday, via Al Jazeera:
At the same time the Taliban says it has no interest in ceasefire talks - which Washington and various Western leaders have urgently called for - with Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid telling Axios on Wednesday: "We have never yielded to any foreign pressure tactics before and we do not plan to capitulate any time soon either."