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Fight for your nation: Biden urges Afghan leaders as Taliban take over

While talking to reporters at the White House, US President Biden said that Afghan leaders must come together. They have got to fight for themselves and for their nation. Biden also said that the US does not regret its withdrawal plan.

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Taliban insurgents tightened their grip on captured Afghan territory on Tuesday, now controlling 65% of the country, as U.S. President Joe Biden urged the nation’s leaders to fight for their homeland.

Pul-e-Khumri, capital of the northern province of Baghlan, fell to the Taliban on Tuesday evening, according to residents who reported Afghan security forces retreating toward the Kelagi desert, home to a large Afghan army base.

Pul-e-Khumri became the seventh regional capital to come under the control of the militants in about a week.

“Afghan leaders have to come together,” Biden told reporters at the White House, saying the Afghan troops outnumber the Taliban and just want to fight. “They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”

Read more: Taliban capture more districts, surround Kabul

The U.S. president said he does not regret his decision to withdraw, noting that Washington has spent more than $1 trillion over 20 years and lost thousands of troops. He said the United States continues to provide significant air support, food, equipment, and salaries to Afghan forces.

Taliban steadily taking over

In Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he was seeking help from regional militias he has squabbled with for years. He appealed to civilians to defend Afghanistan’s “democratic fabric.”

In Aibak, a provincial capital between the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, Taliban fighters were moving into government buildings. Most government forces appeared to have withdrawn.

“The only way is self-imposed house arrest or to find a way to leave for Kabul,” said tax officer Sher Mohamed Abbas, when asked about living conditions in Aibak.

“But then even Kabul is not a safe option anymore,” said Abbas, who supports a family of nine.

The north for years was Afghanistan’s most peaceful region, with only a minimal Taliban presence. The militants’ strategy appears to be to take the north, and border crossings in the north, west, and south, and then close in on Kabul.

Read more: Taliban capture 58 Afghan security forces: defence ministry

The Taliban, battling to defeat the U.S-backed government and reimpose strict Islamic law with peace talks at an impasse, met little resistance as they swept into Aibak on Monday.

A spokesman for the group’s political office told Al Jazeera TV on Tuesday that the group is committed to the negotiation path in Doha and does not want it to collapse.

Taliban forces now control 65% of Afghanistan, threaten to take 11 provincial capitals, and seek to deprive Kabul of its traditional support from national forces in the north, a senior European Union official said on Tuesday.

The government has withdrawn from hard-to-defend rural districts to focus on holding population centers. Officials have appealed for pressure on Pakistan to stop Taliban reinforcements and supplies flowing over the border. Pakistan denies backing the Taliban.

Read more: Taliban schools Indian journalist, says claims against Pakistan is propaganda

The United States has been carrying out some airstrikes to support government troops. Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said the strikes were having a “kinetic” effect on the Taliban but acknowledged limitations.

“Nobody has suggested here that airstrikes are a panacea, that will solve all the problems of the conditions on the ground. We’ve never said that,” Kirby said.

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