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Afghan special force members attend a military operation against the Taliban fighters in Kandak Anayat village of Kunduz city, Afghanistan, July 23. Photo: Ajmal Kakar/Xinhua via Getty Images

The Taliban continued its offensive in Afghanistan Monday, a day after taking control of the key strategic northern city of Kunduz.

Why it matters: The Taliban's escalating success poses a looming problem for the U.S., which is due to completely withdraw military forces from Afghanistan on Aug. 31.

  • The country has seen large, rapid territorial gains by the Taliban and a sharp increase in violence since the group's territorial offensive began earlier this summer.

Driving the news: Kunduz was one of three northern provincial capitals captured by the the Taliban on Sunday alone. The group also captured the cities of Taliqan, in the province of Takhar, and Sar-i-Pul, of the province with the same name, the New York Times notes.

  • "Heavy fighting has also been reported in Herat in the west, and in the southern cities of Kandahar and Lashkar Gah," according to the BBC.
  • Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense said it had killed dozens of Taliban fighters during overnight clashes in several cities.

The big picture: The capture of Sar-i-Pul in northern Afghanistan came after several days of heavy fighting, per the NYT.

  • On Friday, the Taliban captured the city of Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz province.
  • On Saturday, the Taliban seized Sheberghan, the provincial capital of Jawzjan, near the Turkmenistan border, CNN reports.
  • The fall of Kunuz is significant both because the city is strategically located near the border with Tajikistan and is an important political and military hub, but it was also the site of the Taliban's surrender in 2001, according to the Guardian.

State of play: The U.S. intelligence community has warned that the Afghan government could collapse as soon as next year as the Taliban's battlefield offensive grows.

  • The marked uptick in violence since the United States began its withdrawal has seen thousands of Afghans fleeing to neighboring countries.
  • Afghans who assisted American troops as interpreters, contractors or in other ally roles are being given visas to come to the U.S.

Go deeper: Biden defends Afghanistan exit as fears of collapse grow.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with details comment from Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense and to reflect that the Taliban is continuing its offensive.

Go deeper

Oct 19, 2021 - World

WHO, UNICEF to launch polio vaccine drive in Afghanistan

Afghan boys return to their homes after attending school in Chashma Dozak area of Badghis province on Oct. 16. Photo: Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) will launch a house-to-house vaccination campaign to inoculate children in Afghanistan against polio, the UN announced Monday.

Why it matters: The campaign, which begins Nov. 8 with the Taliban's backing, is the first such vaccine drive in over three years to reach all Afghan children, the press release noted.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments — Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers — New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker

The Robinhood M&A rumor mill churns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Robinhood's valuation is now just over $11 billion, a fraction of where it traded in August and below that of its last private round of funding. Cue the M&A mongers.

Why it matters: It's not just Robinhood—falling values of growth-oriented tech stocks have raised speculation that formerly high-flying fintechs could be snapped up by more well-capitalized buyers.