Afghanistan: Fighting rages as Taliban besiege three key cities
image captionFighting is reported to be taking place in a number of locations in Herat
Fighting is raging around three major cities in southern and western Afghanistan as Taliban militants seek to seize them from government forces.
Taliban fighters have entered parts of Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar.
They have made rapid gains in rural areas since it was announced almost all foreign troops would go by September.
But the fate of these key cities could be crucial amid fears of a humanitarian crisis and how long government forces will be able to hold out.
The fundamentalist Islamist militia is already thought to have captured up to half of all Afghanistan's territory, including lucrative border crossings with Iran and Pakistan.
Mapping the advance of the Taliban in Afghanistan
One MP in Kandahar told the BBC the city was at serious risk of falling, with tens of thousands of people already displaced and a humanitarian disaster looming.
Gul Ahmad Kamin said the situation was getting worse hour by hour, and the fighting within the city was the most severe in 20 years.
He said the Taliban now saw Kandahar as a major focal point, a city they want to make their temporary capital. If it fell, then five or six other provinces in the region would also be lost, Mr Kamin said.
image captionThousands have been displaced in Kandahar, amid fighting between the army and the Taliban
He said the Taliban fighters were on several sides of the city and because of the large civilian population government forces would not be able to use heavy weaponry if the militants got fully inside.
In Herat, a Tolo News reporter said clashes had intensified, with Taliban fighters entering southern parts of the economically important city.
There are reports of fighting in at least five different locations.
The US is still carrying out air strikes to support the Afghan forces, who have recaptured a district around the airport.
A guard outside a UN compound near the airport was killed on Friday in what the UN described as a deliberate Taliban attack.
Residents say few places in the city are safe and some people are taking up arms to defend themselves.
Ismail Khan, a former commander who fought against Soviet forces in the 1980s, has launched an armed movement to try to defend the city.
In Lashkar Gah, capital of the southern province of Helmand, insurgents are reportedly still within 2km of the city centre, although government forces had succeeded in holding back an advance overnight.
The commander of Afghan forces said the militants had suffered significant casualties.