Taliban takes key northern Afghan cities as battles rage on
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Taliban fighters captured most of the capital of the most important northern Afghan province of Kunduz on Sunday and, after a month-long siege, captured another neighboring provincial capital.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Taliban fighters captured most of the capital of the most important northern Afghan province of Kunduz on Sunday and, after a month-long siege, captured another neighboring provincial capital. The advances were the latest in a string of strikes against government forces as U.S. forces complete their withdrawal after nearly two decades in the country.
Militia officers planted their flag in the main square of Kunduz city, where it was flown on a traffic police booth, a video obtained from the Associated Press showed.
It was the fourth provincial capital that fell largely victim to the Taliban fighters in less than a week when they stepped up an advance through the Afghan regions and carried out an assassination campaign in the capital, Kabul.
Two provincial councils said the Taliban had taken control of the governor’s office and police headquarters, as well as the main prison building, where 500 inmates, including Taliban fighters, were released after a day of firefight.
The capture of Kunduz would be a significant win for the Taliban and a test of their ability to conquer and hold territory in their campaign against the West-backed government.
It is one of the larger cities in the country, with a population of more than 340,000, and has been a key area over the years defended against the takeover of the Taliban by Western forces.
Ghulam Rabani Rabani City Councilor said fighting would continue at the city’s airport and other parts of the city that are still in the hands of the government. Kunduz is a strategic hub with good connections to a large part of northern Afghanistan and Kabul, which is about 335 kilometers away.
Another provincial council member from Kunduz, Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, also said that the Afghan armed forces only control the airport and the main army barracks and that the Taliban control the rest of the city.
“The innocent and poor have to bear the cost of the war in Kunduz and other parts of the country, both the government troops and the Taliban are the enemy of the civilian population,” said Ayubi. “One cannot provide security and the other cannot” care about people’s security, “he added.
The Afghan government in Kabul denies having lost the northern city, which last week would be the fourth provincial capital to be largely overrun by Taliban fighters. Interior Ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanekzai said the Afghan security forces are continuing to fight and have already recaptured some areas from the Taliban without elaborating.
The Taliban have long considered the city a coveted price. In 2015, it captured Kunduz in the heart of a large agricultural region near Tajikistan for about two weeks before pulling back in the face of a NATO-backed Afghan offensive. A year later, the insurgents pushed back into the city center, hoisted their flags briefly, before they were gradually driven out again.
In Washington, senior officials from the White House National Security Council, the State Department and the Department of Defense were in close contact with officials from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to assess the broader implications of the Kunduz case, according to a senior administration official. The officer was not entitled to comment and spoke on condition of anonymity.
However, the official indicated that despite the Taliban’s rapid strategic advances, the Biden administration remains committed to sticking to its plan to end the US war in Afghanistan by the end of the month.
White House officials have recently expressed concern over reports of retaliation against civilians in Taliban-controlled areas. They have also condemned last week’s assassination of Dawa Khan Menapal, the Afghan government’s head of public relations for local and foreign media, and a bomb attack on incumbent Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi that killed eight people and injured others.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday that the recent surge in attacks runs counter to the Taliban’s “aspiration to seek international legitimacy” and offered militants “not to have to stay that course.”
Also on Sunday, Taliban troops overran Taleqan, the capital of Takhar Province, which is next to Kunduz, said two Afghan lawmakers. Takhar, a town of around 200,000 people, is of particular importance to the anti-Taliban fighters of the Northern Alliance, who joined the US-led coalition to drive out the religious militias in 2001.
Sayed Sharafuddin Aini, a member of the Afghan parliament from Takhar province, said the Taliban managed to take the city that afternoon after three months of raids in which they took control of the entire countryside of the province.
Another local MP, Nazifa Yousefi Beg, said all provincial officials including the governor, police chief and councilors were on the run. She said she was concerned about her safety and wanted the government to send reinforcements to the city.
Both MPs made phone calls in Kabul, where they live. They said they had contact with officials and members of the provincial council in the morning and early afternoon, and Beg contacted the incumbent defense minister in his office directly.
Taleqan had been besieged in recent weeks by Taliban troops, who had taken control of the surrounding countryside for the past three months, and largely cut off from the rest of the country.
The insurgents led a nationwide offensive that intensified when US and NATO forces completed their withdrawal from the country this summer. Faced with mounting Taliban attacks, Afghan security forces and government forces have retaliated with US-backed air strikes. The fighting has raised concerns about civilian casualties.
Taliban fighters entered the capital of northern Jawzjan province on Saturday after crossing nine out of ten districts in the province. Several other of the country’s 34 provincial capitals are threatened as Taliban fighters sweep through large parts of Afghanistan at surprising speeds.
Early last week, their fighters captured the ninth of ten police districts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of southern Helmand province. Fierce fighting continues there, as well as air strikes by the US and Afghan governments, one of which damaged a clinic and high school.
The Defense Ministry confirmed the air strikes had occurred but said they targeted Taliban positions, killing 54 fighters and wounding 23 others. It did not mention in its statement that a clinic or school was bombed. Deputy provincial council chair Majid Akhund said the facilities were under Taliban control when they were attacked.
As they rolled through the provincial capitals, the Taliban issued an English-language statement on Sunday saying that residents, government officials and security officials had nothing to fear from them.
“No former civil servant and other government employees, including those who have worked in the security sector … should not be afraid of the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirates or flee to other locations,” the statement said.
Attacks of revenge and repressive treatment of women have been reported in areas now under Taliban control.
Rohan contributed from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press authors Kathy Gannon from Islamabad, Pakistan and Aamer Madhani from Wilmington, Delaware.
Rahim Faiez and Brian Rohan, The Associated Press