Taliban army takes key northern town in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan’s Taliban fighters captured the stronghold of warlord Rashid Dostum on Sunday, Taliban and opposition sources said, putting the religious militia on the doorstep of the opposition coalition’s main headquarters.
Azizullah Shasaq, a spokesman for the Hezb-e-Wahadat militia, one of Dostum’s partners, confirmed the warlord’s base in Shebergan had fallen.
Shasaq said Dostum had retreated south to the nearby town of Saritul and reported by satellite phone late Sunday that he had suffered few casualties and that fighting continued.
Taliban fighters, who control about 85 percent of Afghanistan, seem on the verge of taking the rest of the country. Victories in recent days could give them the momentum to capture the remaining major opposition strongholds: Mazar-e-Sharif, 60 miles east of Shebergan, and the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul.
On Saturday, Taliban officials claimed to be 60 miles across flat desert from Shebergan, where Dostum had assembled an arsenal of tanks, fighter jets and other equipment.
The anti-Taliban coalition is mostly made up of Afghanistan’s minority ethnic and religious groups, factions that sometimes fight each other as well as the Taliban army.
The next Taliban target is likely to be the key city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Omar said Taliban fighters were already making gains around Mazar-e-Sharif, but Shasaq said the city was calm.
Taliban radio reported Sunday fighters had broken through enemy defense lines at Ahrytan, about 40 miles east of Mazar-e-Sharif, indicating a two-pronged Taliban offensive on Mazar-e-Sharif.