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Taliban surround major Afghan cities, ready for a showdown when U.S. troops are gone

Taliban overwhelms Afghan troops as U.S. withdraws
Taliban overwhelms Afghan troops as U.S. withdrawal looms 01:31

Kabul — President Biden was to speak on Thursday about the situation in Afghanistan as America's involvement in its longest-ever war draws to an end. Mr. Biden is expected to say that the U.S. withdrawal is complete, but a force of around 1,000 troops will remain in country to provide security at the U.S. Embassy and Kabul International Airport.

But the Taliban militants the U.S. has spent two decades battling are now pushing toward provincial cities, bringing their battle with Afghan security forces ever closer to regional capitals.

Afghan commando units were back on patrol Thursday in the capital of Badghis Province, in western Afghanistan — just a day after they beat back Taliban militants who tried to storm the city.

An Afghan soldier stands guard along a road amid ongoing fighting with Taliban fighters in the western city of Qala-i- Naw, the capital of Afghanistan's Badghis province, July 8, 2021. AFP via Getty

Unverified videos posted on social media appeared to show Taliban fighters speeding toward the center of Qala-i-Naw city on motorcycles. Amid the chaos, there was a jailbreak at the local prison.

With heavy gunfire still ringing out, the provincial governor tried to reassure residents: "Keep your composure and I promise you, we will defend the city."

The battle was the closest the Taliban has come to toppling a provincial capital since 2015, and it was part of an offensive that has seen the insurgency advance across the country at lightning speed.

Afghan soldiers flee Taliban offensive as U.S. withdrawal looms 04:48

Amid widespread surrenders, desertions and mass retreats by Afghan army soldiers — including more than 1,000 who fled across the border to neighboring Tajikistan — National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib insisted earlier this week that his troops had begun returning to their posts.

"They are being brought back. People are standing," he told reporters. "There is war, there is pressure. Sometimes things work in our way, sometimes they don't."

Defense officials tell CBS News that the Taliban is surrounding provincial capitals like Qala-i-Naw for now, waiting it out until U.S. troops are gone for good, and the threat of immediate airstrikes coming to the Afghan forces' rescue is diminished.

The Afghan troops have been redeployed to defend the cities, setting the stage for a showdown.

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