KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban entered two provincial capitals in northern Afghanistan on Sunday, local officials said, the culmination of an insurgent offensive that has overrun dozens of rural districts and forced the surrender and capture of hundreds of government forces and their military equipment in recent weeks.

In Kunduz city, the capital of the province of the same name, the Taliban seized the city’s entrance before dispersing throughout its neighborhoods. Kunduz was briefly taken by the Taliban in 2015 and 2016 before they were pushed back by U.S. airstrikes, special operations forces and Afghan security forces.

“Right now, I hear the sound of bullets,” said Amruddin Wali, a member of Kunduz’s provincial council. “The Taliban have appeared in the alleys and back alleys of Kunduz, and there is panic all over the city.”

The setbacks come at a harrowing moment for Afghanistan. U.S. and international troops, now mostly based in Kabul, the capital, and at Bagram Airfield, are set to leave the country in weeks.

To the west of Kunduz in Maimana, the capital of Faryab province, Taliban fighters appeared at the city’s entrance before moving into the city’s periphery. The Taliban clashed with security forces into Sunday night, after a series of takeovers in past days in the capital’s surrounding districts.

The looming U.S. withdrawal means Afghan troops will be left without the kind of combat support that has stopped such Taliban offensives in the past.


“If reinforcements come from Kabul, and aircraft support the security forces, the Taliban cannot enter the city,” said Sebghatullah Selab, deputy of Faryab’s provincial capital. There was also fighting Sunday near the entrance of Taloqan, the capital of Takhar, a province that neighbors Kunduz.

U.S. air support in past weeks has been significantly reduced because of restrictive rules of engagement, and many U.S. military aircraft are now based outside Afghanistan. Afghan air power is struggling to make up the difference.

On Friday, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, is to meet Biden at the White House to discuss the U.S. troop withdrawal.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.