Taliban fighters have entered the outskirts of the Afghan capital Kabul, further tightening their grip on the country as panicked workers fled government offices and helicopters landed at the US embassy.
Three Afghan officials told the Associated Press that the Taliban were in the districts of Kalakan, Qarabagh and Paghman in the capital.
The militants later pledged not to take Kabul “by force” as sporadic gunfire could be heard in the capital.
“No-one’s life, property and dignity will be harmed and the lives of the citizens of Kabul will not be at risk,” the Taliban said.
In a nationwide offensive that has taken just over a week, the Taliban have defeated, co-opted or sent Afghan security forces fleeing from wide swathes of the country, even with some air support by the US military.
The lightning speed of the Taliban offensive has shocked many and raised questions about why Afghan forces crumbled despite years of US training and billions of dollars spent.
Just days ago, an American military assessment estimated it would be a month before the capital would come under insurgent pressure.
Rapid shuttle flights of Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters near the embassy began a few hours later after the militants seized the nearby city of Jalalabad.
Diplomatic armoured SUVs could be seen leaving the area around the post.
The US State Department did not immediately respond to questions about the movements.
However, wisps of smoke could be seen near the embassy’s roof as diplomats urgently destroyed sensitive documents, according to two American military officials.
Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which typically carry armed troops, later landed near the embassy as well.
The US decided a few days ago to send in 3,000 fresh troops to help evacuate some personnel from the US embassy.
The Czech Republic also approved a plan to begin withdrawing their Afghan staff from their embassy after earlier taking their diplomats to Kabul International Airport.
Czech foreign minister Jakub Kulhanek said Afghan staff are at risk of “death and torture” if they stay, adding: “We simply can’t allow that to happen.”
President Ashraf Ghani, who spoke to the nation on Saturday for the first time since the offensive began, appears increasingly isolated as well.
Warlords he negotiated with just days earlier have surrendered to the Taliban or fled, leaving Mr Ghani without a military option.
Ongoing negotiations in Qatar, the site of a Taliban office, have also failed to stop the insurgents’ advance.
Thousands of civilians now live in parks and open spaces in Kabul itself, fearing the future.
Some ATMs stopped distributing cash as hundreds gathered in front of private banks, trying to withdraw their life savings.
Gunfire erupted at one point, though the Afghan presidency sought to downplay the shooting.
“The defence and security forces along with the international forces (are) working for the security of Kabul city and the situation is under control,” the presidency said amid the chaos.
Militants posted photos online early on Sunday showing them in the governor’s office in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province.
Abrarullah Murad, a legislator from the province, told the Associated Press that the insurgents seized Jalalabad after elders negotiated the fall of the government there.
Mr Murad said there was no fighting as the city surrendered.
The militants also took Maidan Shar, the capital of Maidan Wardak, on Sunday, only 55 miles from Kabul, Afghan legislator Hamida Akbari and the Taliban said.
Another provincial capital in Khost fell later on Sunday to the Taliban, said a provincial council member.
‘No place for women’
The fall on Saturday of Mazar-e-Sharif, the country’s fourth largest city, which Afghan forces and two powerful former warlords had pledged to defend, handed the insurgents control over all of northern Afghanistan.
Many Afghans fear a return to the Taliban’s oppressive rule.
The group had previously governed Afghanistan under a harsh version of Islamic law in which women were forbidden to work or attend school, and could not leave their homes without a male relative accompanying them.
Salima Mazari, one of the few female district governors in the country, expressed fears about a Taliban takeover on Saturday in an interview from Mazar-e-Sharif, before it fell.
“There will be no place for women,” said Ms Mazari, who governs a district of 36,000 people near the northern city.
“In the provinces controlled by the Taliban, no women exist there anymore, not even in the cities. They are all imprisoned in their homes.”
In a statement late on Saturday, however, the Taliban insisted their fighters would not enter people’s homes or interfere with businesses.
They also said they would offer an “amnesty” to those who worked with the Afghan government or foreign forces.
“The Islamic Emirate once again assures all its citizens that it will, as always, protect their life, property and honour and create a peaceful and secure environment for its beloved nation,” the militants said.
“In this regard, no-one should worry about their life.”