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Taliban capture Mazar-i-Sharif city in north Afghanistan, draw closer to Kabul

KABUL: Taliban forces captured a major city in northern Afghanistan on Saturday, sending Afghan forces fleeing, and drew closer to Kabul, where Western countries scrambled to evacuate their citizens from the capital.

The fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, confirmed by a provincial council official, was another important capture for the insurgents, who have swept through the country in recent weeks as US-led forces withdrew.

Kabul and Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan, are now the only big cities not in Taliban hands. The insurgent fighters are now camped just 50 kilometres (30 miles) away from Kabul.

The United States and Britain are now rushing several thousand troops back into the country to evacuate citizens amid concern Kabul could soon be overrun.

Security forces from Mazar-i-Sharif were escaping towards the border, Afzal Hadid, head of the Balkh provincial council, told Reuters.

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