Another day, another major city captured by the Taliban. And this time's it's the biggest prize to date. The militant group on Thursday overran Herat, Afghanistan's third-largest city and a strategic provincial capital near Kabul, further squeezing the country's embattled government just weeks before the end of the American military mission there, per the AP. The Taliban has now taken 11 of Afghanistan's 34 provincial capitals as part of a weeklong blitz. Taliban fighters rushed past the Great Mosque in the historic city—which dates to 500 BC and was once a spoil of Alexander the Great—and seized government buildings. Witnesses described hearing sporadic gunfire at one government building while the rest of the city fell silent under the insurgents' control.
The Taliban on Thursday also captured Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, which cuts off a crucial highway linking the Afghan capital with the country's southern provinces. While Kabul itself isn't directly under threat yet, the losses and the battles elsewhere further tighten the grip of a resurgent Taliban estimated to now hold some two-thirds of the nation. Thousands of people have fled their homes amid fears the Taliban will again impose a brutal, repressive government, all but eliminating women's rights and conducting public amputations, stonings, and executions. Peace talks in Qatar remain stalled, though diplomats met throughout the day. (Kabul could fall in weeks.)