The Taliban has declared its withdrawal from Kunduz, two weeks after its stunning capture of the northern Afghan city that marked its biggest military victory in 14 years of war.
The tactical retreat after prolonged street battles comes as the insurgents make an unprecedented push to seize other big cities across multiple provinces.
The announcement comes days after the government claimed to have recaptured the city, where insurgents burned down government buildings, gunned down opponents and freed hundreds of prisoners.
"The (Taliban) ordered its mujahideen to withdraw from the main square, markets and government buildings to the outlying rural areas ... in order to reinforce their defence lines and reserve their strength for effective future operations," the group said on its website.
The Taliban said it was capable of retaking the city after the successful "conquest", during which various Afghan military equipment and government documents were seized.
Afghan soldiers, backed by NATO special forces and US air support, have been combing the city to flush out pockets of insurgents hiding in civilian homes.
As fighting abates, local residents are slowly emerging from their homes after days of crippling food, water and electricity shortages.
The fall of Kunduz on September 28 was a stinging blow to Western-trained Afghan forces, who have largely been fighting on their own since the end of NATO's combat mission in December.
As the insurgency spreads, concerns are mounting that the city's seizure was merely the opening gambit in a new, bolder strategy to tighten the Taliban's grip across Afghanistan.
"With this kind of guerrilla fighting focused around big cities, the Taliban are exerting enormous pressure on overstretched Afghan forces," Kabul-based military analyst Atiqullah Amarkhil told AFP.
"The Taliban know they can't control a city for long, but capturing one, even momentarily, is a huge propaganda win."
NATO forces are under pressure after a US air strike on October 3 pummelled a hospital in Kunduz run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), killing at least 12 staff and 10 patients.
The medical charity shut down the trauma centre, branding the incident a "war crime" and demanding an international investigation into the strike, which sparked an avalanche of global condemnation.