Taliban Captures Kunduz Province; 5 Provincial Capitals Seized in 3 Days
B-52 bombers and AC-10 Spectre gunships are being used by the US to attack Taliban positions in Pashtun strongholds.
As US and NATO troops continue their withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban has seized five provincial capitals, with northern Afghanistan’s Kunduz province being the latest to have fallen on Sunday, 8 August.
The Taliban took another neighbouring provincial capital, Taleqan, after a month-long siege, in a series of blows to Afghan security forces.
It was the fourth provincial capital to largely succumb to Taliban fighters in less than a week, as they ramp up a push across Afghan’s regions, and wage an assassination campaign in the capital, Kabul.
Two provincial council members were reported as saying, the Taliban took control of the governor’s office and police headquarters, as well as the main prison building, where 500 inmates including Taliban fighters were freed, AP reported.
Why is Kunduz’s Capture Crucial?
Kunduz’s capture would be a significant strategic gain for the Taliban, as it gives good access to much of northern Afghanistan and is one of the country’s larger cities with a population of more than 3,40,000 people.
Councilman Ghulam Rabani Rabani said that fighting was going on at the city’s airport and other parts of the city where the government is still in control, AP reported. Kunduz also provides good access to Kabul, about 335 kilometers away.
“The innocent and poor must pay the cost of the war in Kunduz and other parts of the country, both government forces and the Taliban are the enemy of civilians. One can’t provide security and the other doesn’t care about people’s safety."Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, provincial council member from Kunduz, as quoted by AP.
However, the Afghan government in Kabul denies having lost the northern city, which would be the fourth provincial capital to be largely overrun by Taliban fighters since last Friday (30 July). Interior Ministry Spokesman Mirwais Stanekzai asserted that Afghan security forces continue to fight and have already reclaimed some areas from the Taliban.
The Taliban has attempted to seize Kunduz before as well. It partially succeeded for two weeks in 2015 before withdrawing in the face of a NATO-backed Afghan offensive. A year later, the insurgents pushed back into the city center, briefly raising their flag before gradually being driven out again.
According to a senior administration official, the Joe Biden administration remains determined to end the US war in Afghanistan by month end despite the Taliban’s swift takeover of strategic territory.
Meanwhile, the Taliban on 6 July, assassinated the director of the Afghanistan government's media and information centre. The shooting incident, which took place in the country's capital, Kabul, came days after the Taliban had warned the government that it would attack its officials if the air strikes against the militant organisation were not halted.
White House officials condemned the assassination and a recent bombing that targeted acting Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday, 6 August, rising attacks run counter to the “the Taliban claim to want international legitimacy”, betrays their peace assurances, and offered that the militants “do not have to stay on this trajectory”, AP reported.
Additionally, heavy-duty B-52 bombers and AC-10 Spectre gunships are being used by the US Air Force Central Command to attack Taliban positions in Pashtun strongholds of south and east Afghanistan.
Sheberghan in Jowzan and Lashkar Gah in Helmand have also been bombed by US planes, Hindustan Times reported. The US forces are to complete their exit from Afghanistan by 31 August.
Taleqan: Fifth Provincial Capital Captured
The Taliban forces also took over Taleqan, the capital of Takhar province, which lies next to Kunduz, two Afghan lawmakers were reported as saying.
Sayed Sharafuddin Aini, a member of the Afghan Parliament from Takhar province, said the Taliban managed to take the city in the afternoon after three months of advances.
Nazifa Yousefi Beg, another MP from the area, said that she worried about the safety of all provincial officials including the governor, police chief, and council members, who were on the run, AP reported.
Taliban forces had taken control of the surrounding countryside over the past three months, cutting off Taleqan from the rest of the country, after which the city was under siege in the recent weeks.
Afghan security forces and government troops have retaliated with airstrikes aided by the United States, as Taliban increased its attacks.
Several other of the country’s 34 provincial capitals are threatened as Taliban continues to seize territory after territory, showing no indication of slowing down.
Nine of 10 police districts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province, have been captured.
Meanwhile, US and Afghan government airstrikes continue, one of which reportedly damaged a health clinic and high school.
The Defense Ministry confirmed that airstrikes were conducted, however, they said Taliban positions were targeted, killing 54 fighters and wounding 23 others, AP reported.
Meanwhile, the Taliban issued an English language statement on Sunday, in the newly captured provincial capitals, saying that residents, government employees, and security officials had nothing to fear from them.
The statement read, “No former civil servant and other government employee including those who worked in the security sector...should have any fear of the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate, nor flee towards other places.”
(With inputs from AP and Hindustan Times)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.