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Afghan security personnel in Kandahar on July 6. Photo: Javed Tanveer/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban have captured Kandahar, the birthplace of their movement and the second-largest city in Afghanistan, the AP reports.

Why it matters: It's the 12th provincial capital overrun by the Taliban in about a week, delivering a hugely important strategic and symbolic victory for the insurgents.

The big picture: The Taliban first seized Kandahar in the 1990s before toppling the Afghan government in Kabul and declaring an Islamic state.

  • They were driven out of the city of 600,000, also the birthplace of the group's founder, during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
  • Kandahar Airfield was one of the main bases housing U.S. and NATO forces — including more than 26,000 troops at its peak — before it was handed over to Afghan security forces in May, according to NBC News.
Expand chart
Data: Al Jazeera and AP; Map: Axios Visuals

Driving the news: The Taliban captured Kandahar on the same day that they took Herat, the third-largest city in Afghanistan, and Ghazni, the closest provincial capital to Kabul.

  • The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued its second security alert in five days on Thursday, urging U.S. citizens to leave Afghanistan "immediately."
  • U.S. intelligence officials now believe Kabul could fall to the Taliban within 30 to 90 days — a stark revision from a previous assessment that the city could possibly fall six to 12 months after the U.S. military's full withdrawal.
  • The New York Times reported on Thursday that U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is seeking to convince Taliban leaders that the U.S. embassy "must remain open, and secure, if the group hopes to receive American financial aid and other assistance as part of a future Afghan government."

Behind the scenes: The Taliban have stunned even some seasoned military and national security officials in the U.S. government with the speed of its conquests over the past week, as Axios reported on Wednesday.

  • Even so, President Biden isn't budging — he is resolved to get out by Aug. 31, no matter what.
  • "I do not regret my decision," Biden told reporters Tuesday. "We spent over a trillion dollars, over 20 years. We trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces. ... They've got to fight for themselves."

Go deeper: Inside the Biden administration as Afghanistan collapses

Go deeper

Nov 5, 2021 - World

State Dept. urges all U.S. citizens to leave Ethiopia "as soon as possible"

Ethiopian soldiers training with a heavy machine gun at an undisclosed camp in September. Photo: Amanuel Sileshi/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia urged Americans to "leave the country as soon as possible" on Friday in response to rebel forces from the northern region of Tigray converging near the capital of Addis Ababa, calling the situation "very fluid."

Why it matters: Ethiopia's government declared a state of emergency on Wednesday over the presence of rebel forces, allowing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to impose curfews, order citizens into military service and restrict the news media.

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker