MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan – The streets of Mazar-i-Sharif were empty when scores of Taliban fighters on bicycles swarmed through in a remarkably quiet takeover by the Taliban.
I spent the day at a hotel with photographer Jake Simkin, trying to reach military contacts and assess the ongoing assault on this northern city.
There was a lot of fighting, and we could see people fleeing. But everyone we were talking to said Mazar wasn’t going to fall.
Around 8 p.m. local time, we ventured out to find some dinner. We both had a sense something was amiss on the deserted streets.
We started to notice men riding around on bicycles.
As we got back to the hotel, it became clear that the city was falling to the insurgents.
The number of bikes on the streets increased. They are the Taliban, the Islamist extremists who have taken over more than half of the country in the past few weeks as they work toward renewing their control of Afghanistan, 20 years after the U.S. ousted them.
It was a quiet takeover. There are sporadic rounds of gunfire, but no major fighting.
Mazar has fallen a lot faster than anybody could have predicted, and it’s very sad for the Afghan people.
The city is now on complete lockdown.
We had scheduled a flight out for Monday night, but that’s been canceled. We’re just trying to stay put and stay calm, and figure out how to get out of here as safely and abruptly as possible when daylight comes.