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Afghan special forces patrol Herat. Photo: Aref Karimi/AFPTV/AFP via Getty

Six Afghan provincial capitals have fallen to the Taliban since Friday, Reuters notes, with the militants taking the town of Aybak on Monday and targeting northern Afghanistan's largest city, Mazar-i-Sharif.

Why it matters: The string of swift Taliban successes in the final weeks of the U.S. withdrawal has dented hopes that the Afghan military and allied militias will be able to fend off the insurgency.

Flashback: As of June 16, the Taliban and government controlled a roughly equal number of districts (104 and 94, respectively) with 201 contested.

  • The Taliban is also targeting senior officials for assassination. Dawa Khan Menapal, who ran the government's media department, was killed on Friday, shortly after a failed assassination attempt on Afghanistan's defense minister.

What they're saying: The United Kingdom's Defense Secretary Ben Wallace was the latest to question the decision of the U.S. and NATO forces to rapidly withdraw before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

  • He told the Daily Mail that the U.K. had sought an agreement for some NATO troops to remain but "without the United States as the framework nation it had been, these options were closed off."
  • A Pentagon spokesperson said Monday that "these are their provincial capitals" and it's up to the Afghan government to defend them.

What to watch: Afghan officials are seeking continued U.S. air support after the withdrawal, but the Pentagon hasn't said whether and how it would conduct such operations.

Go deeper

Pentagon: About half of Afghan evacuees at U.S. bases are children

U.S. Navy soldiers helping evacuate Afghans. Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP via Getty Images

Roughly half of the Afghan refugees housed temporarily at U.S. military bases are children under the age of 18, according to a letter from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Sen. James Inhofe obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: This is among the many challenges when it comes to the government's Afghan resettlement effort.

Updated 1 hour ago - Science

Nor'easter slams East Coast with flooding rain and powerful winds

A residential area in Middlesex County as floodwater from the nor'easter covers streets in New Jersey on Tuesday. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A monster storm was slamming the Northeast with record rainfall and powerful winds over Tuesday night — causing flash flooding that resulted in people having to be rescued in New Jersey and New York roads to close.

Threat level: All of southern New England westward to New York City and northern New Jersey was under the threat of flash flooding and coastal flooding from the nor'easter through Tuesday night into early Wednesday, per the National Weather Service.

1 hour ago - World

Blinken speaks with Sudan prime minister after his release

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok. Photo: Ebrahim Hamid/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke on the phone on Tuesday evening with Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok after the military released him from custody.

Why it matters: Hamdok’s release was a result of pressure on Sudan’s military leader General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan from the U.S. and other countries but also from the different political parties in Sudan and massive protests in the streets.