Afghan President Ashraf Ghani returned to the capital yesterday after a flying visit to the besieged northern city of Mazar-e Sharif to rally forces loyal to the government, with Taliban fighters having now taken more than a quarter of the country's provincial capitals in less than a week.

Afghan media reports say that in Mazar-e Sharif, President Ghani held talks with long-time local strongman Ata Mohammad Noor and warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum about the defense of the city, as Taliban militants inched closer to its outskirts.

Sources said that during the meetings with political leaders in Balkh, President Ghani has agreed to start operations against the Taliban in the north.

“The president led the security meeting in the north and ordered the necessary directives to the appropriate officials,” said Latif Mahmoud, Ghani’s spokesman, according to TOLO News.

“Regarding the war, he (the President) said that the war will be of two types: the guerrilla war and the war to recapture the territory,” said Mohammad Afzal Hadid, head of the Balkh provincial council.

“Mazar-e Sharif city is a strategic and important city, therefore it should be defended at any cost,” said Ata Mohammad Noor, the former governor of Balkh.

Sources have said that Ghani has assigned Marshal Dostum to lead the war and all military affairs in north. TOLO News added.

Afghan President Ghani arrived in Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, yesterday morning amid challenging security situation in the northern provinces.

Ghani's adviser on security and political affairs Mohammad Mohaqiq and former mujahideen commander Juma Khan Hamdard accompanied the President on this trip.

Ghani’s visit was immediately overshadowed by the mass surrender of hundreds of Afghan soldiers in nearby Kunduz, along with the overnight capture of Faizabad, the capital of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province.  Faizabad has become the ninth provincial capital to be overrun since last Friday.

Experts note that the loss of Mazar-e Sharif would be a catastrophic blow to the Kabul government and represent the complete collapse of its control over the north – an anti-Taliban stronghold. 

Meanwhile, the Washington Post says the Taliban's quick succession of gains has prompted US officials to warn the collapse of the Afghan capital, Kabul, could happen sooner than expected.  

One unnamed official told the Washington Post that the US military now thinks that collapse "could occur within 90 days."

This represents a revision from an earlier intelligence assessment, predicting the capital could fall into the hands of the Taliban within six to 12 months, the report stated.

Other officials told the Washington Post that Kabul could fall within one month.