KABUL — Two of Afghanistan’s largest cities were under dire threat from Taliban fighters Thursday, a sharp intensification of the group’s persistent military gains amid the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Clashes pushed into the center of both Kandahar and Herat as fighters took control of some of the main government buildings in the two cities, according to local officials. The Associated Press, citing Afghan officials and witnesses, reported both had been captured. A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the evolving situation’s sensitivity, said that was not yet clear, though it was possible they could fall soon. The Taliban also overran the capitals of Ghazni and Badghis provinces Thursday.

U.S. officials said Thursday that the Biden administration will send thousands of troops to Afghanistan to help airlift American personnel and local allies out of Kabul, as the rapid-fire advances by the Taliban intensified the existential threat facing the Afghan state.

Ghazni’s governor fled the city as it fell and was arrested by Afghan government forces on the road to Kabul on suspicion of brokering a deal with the Taliban to abandon the province, according to a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry.

As the Taliban expands its control across the country, fears are growing among Afghans that surrender deals made with the Taliban will only fuel the militants’ advances. Many districts and a handful of provincial capitals fell to the fighters with little to no resistance in theweeks before the forces began taking urban areas.

On Wednesday, in the country’s north, hundreds of Afghan forces surrendered after a deal was brokered between Taliban leaders and commanders at a base on the edge of Kunduz city. The troops handed over dozens of Humvees and weapons in a move that allowed the Taliban to consolidate its control of the north.

In Herat on Thursday, Taliban fighters took control of the police headquarters and other local administrative buildings, but Afghan government forces remained in control of the airport, said provincial council member Ghulam Habib Hashimi, speaking by phone from Herat.

“Afghan forces with their Humvees were running away from Taliban fighters holding only a Kalashnikov,” Hashimi said. “The government was so indifferent.”

In Kandahar, while the Taliban pushed into the city center, Afghan forces remained in control of the police headquarters, the governor’s compound, an intelligence compound and Kandahar airport, said Rohullah Khanzada, a member of parliament.

"The Afghanistan Papers" author Craig Whitlock explains how presidents misled the public about the war in Afghanistan for nearly two decades. (Joy Yi/The Washington Post)

The capitals of Ghazni and Badghis were the 10th and 11th to fall to the Taliban in less than a week. Ghazni city — about 80 miles southwest of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul — had been under siege by the militants for over three months.

Videos circulating on social media appeared to show Ghazni’s governor being escorted out of the province by Taliban fighters. The videos showed Mohammad Dawood Laghmani riding in a convoy of armored vehicles through Taliban checkpoints in territory under the militants’ control.

An Interior Ministry spokesman, Mirwais Stanikzai, said Ghazni’s governor was arrested by the Afghan government for abandoning his provincial capital without a fight and for allowing the militants to drive him out of the province.

A senior Interior Ministry official said the Taliban runs a recruitment team that reaches out to Afghan officials, pushing them to join the militants.

“One of the main reasons we lost so much ground is the cooperation of officials with the Taliban,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose such information to the news media.

“We suspect a long list of governors who might have Taliban ties.”

The Taliban’s military blitz across the country does not appear to be slowing. On Tuesday, the militants overran the capitals of Badakhshan in the north, Farah in the west and Baghlan, a five-hour drive north of Kabul.

Afghan government control has shrunk to less than a third of the country’s territory. And while the United States is continuing to support Afghan forces with airstrikes, the withdrawal of foreign troops is set to conclude within weeks.

Read more: