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The Taliban seize Kunduz, a major city in northern Afghanistan

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By Christina Goldbaum and Najim Rahim
Aug. 8, 2021, 3:47 a.m. ET

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban seized the city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan on Sunday, officials said. It is the first major city to be overtaken by the insurgents since they began their sweeping military offensive in May.

Kunduz, the capital of a province of the same name, is a significant military and political prize. With a population of 374,000, it is a vital commercial hub near the border with Tajikistan.

“All security forces fled to the airport and the situation is critical,” said Sayed Jawad Hussaini, the deputy police chief of a district in Kunduz city.

Clashes between government forces and Taliban fighters were ongoing in a small town south of the city, where the local army headquarters and the airport are situated, security officials said.

Security forces had retreated to the town earlier in the morning, officials said. It was unclear whether the government forces, already overstretched, would try to push the Taliban out of the city.

In the two preceding days, the Taliban had taken two other provincial capitals: Sheberghan, the capital of Jowzjan Province, and Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz Province on the Afghanistan-Iran border. As Kunduz was collapsing on Sunday morning, the Taliban also seized Sar-i-Pul, the capital of a northern province of the same name, officials said.

“Taliban are walking in the streets of the city. Local residents are terrified,” said Sayed Asadullah Danish, a member of the Sar-i-Pul provincial council. Provincial officials had taken shelter in an army base on the outskirts of the city, where clashes were continuing, he added.

The string of Taliban victories in cities marks a significant change in the insurgents’ offensive, which started in May as international troops, led by the United States, began withdrawing. After sweeping through the country’s rural areas, the insurgents’ military campaign has shifted to brutal urban combat in recent weeks, as they have pushed into cities like Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in the south, and Herat in the west.

The Taliban’s strategy has exhausted the Afghan government’s forces and overwhelmed the local militia forces that the government has used to supplement its own troops, a move reminiscent of the chaotic and ethnically divided civil war of the 1990s.

“We are so tired and the security forces are so tired,” said Mr. Hussaini, the police official in Kunduz. “At the same time we hadn’t received reinforcements and aircraft did not target the Taliban on time.”

The Taliban briefly seized Kunduz in 2015 and again in 2016, gaining control of a province for the first time since American forces invaded in 2001. Both times, Afghan forces pushed back the insurgents with help from American airstrikes. Kunduz is also where an American gunship mistakenly attacked a Doctors Without Borders hospital in 2015, killing 42 people.

On Sunday, after a night of heavy fighting, Taliban fighters flooded into the streets of Kunduz and raised their flag over its main square, a video recorded by a resident showed. Two of the city’s main markets, where shopkeepers sell fabrics and footwear, caught fire, sending dark plumes of smoke over the city.

Since the U.S. withdrawal began, the Taliban have captured more than half of Afghanistan’s 400-odd districts, according to some assessments. Their attacks on provincial capitals have violated the 2020 peace deal between the Taliban and the United States. Under that deal, which precipitated the American withdrawal from the country, the Taliban committed to not attacking provincial centers like Kunduz.

An escalation of American airstrikes against the Taliban in recent weeks was an attempt to ensure the group’s adherence to the deal. That effort has seemingly failed, and the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have become all but an afterthought as the insurgents push for a military victory throughout Afghanistan.


Taliban captures Kunduz, third provincial capital in three days

Armed group says its forces are in control of Kunduz as fighting rages in several cities across the country.

The Taliban has captured the city of Kunduz, the armed group said, the third provincial capital the armed group has taken over in the last three days.

A Taliban statement on Sunday said it has captured the police headquarters, the governor’s compound and the prison in the city.

Local sources and journalists in Kunduz confirmed to Al Jazeera that Taliban fighters are present in the capital.

Kunduz had previously fallen to the group in 2015 and 2016.

On Saturday, the Taliban captured the city of Sheberghan, the city’s deputy governor said, a day after Zaranj, in Nimruz province, fell “without a fight”, according to its deputy governor.

“A journalist in the centre of Kunduz told us the Taliban has taken over the police chief’s office, the election commission’s office and that the Taliban flag is flying at the central roundabout,” said Al Jazeera’s Charlotte Bellis, reporting from the capital, Kabul.

“The government is denying Kunduz has fallen but, by all accounts, it has.”

Afghanistan’s defence ministry released a video of an Afghan commando saying the National Security Forces have been conducting coordinated operations in the province over the last 24 hours.

The commando said in the video that the Taliban suffered heavy casualties in these operations as “they were trying to take key points” in the province, adding that the armed group’s “dream” would not be fulfilled.

“You should be certain that the Afghan forces are with you,” the commando tells the people of Kunduz.

Though the Taliban has taken two provincial capitals since Friday, Kunduz – in the far north – would be the most significant to fall since the armed group launched an offensive in May as foreign forces began the final stages of their withdrawal.

Afghan government forces have reportedly abandoned the countryside but are now scrambling to defend a string of cities across the country.

The Taliban has gained vast parts of rural Afghanistan since launching a series of offensives in May to coincide with the start of the final withdrawal of foreign troops.

The Ministry of Defense said that on Saturday evening, US B-52 bombers struck several Taliban targets in Sheberghan.

At the same time, intense fighting continued in the capitals of the southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces which the Taliban has been trying to take over for several weeks now.

On Saturday, the US embassy issued a statement condemning the Taliban’s inroads into provincial centres in the south and north.

“We condemn the Taliban’s violent new offensive against Afghan cities. This includes the unlawful seizure of Zaranj, the capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, the attack on Sheberghan, capital of Jowzjan province yesterday and today, and continuing efforts to take over Lashkar Gah in Helmand and provincial capitals elsewhere,” the statement read.

Sheberghan is home to notorious strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum, who returned to Afghanistan only this week after medical treatment in Turkey.

Dostum has overseen one of the largest militias in the north, which garnered a fearsome reputation in its fight against the Taliban in the 1990s – along with accusations that his forces massacred thousands of prisoners of war.

On Saturday, Dostum held a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the presidential palace. A palace statement quoted Dostum as saying that “it is time to stand alongside” the security forces and to “stand against the enemy”.

Any retreat of Dostum’s fighters would dent the government’s recent hopes that militia groups could help bolster the country’s overstretched military.

In Zaranj, social media posts suggested the Taliban was welcomed by some residents.

They showed captured military Humvees, luxury SUVs and pick-ups speeding through the streets, flying white Taliban flags as residents – mostly youths and young men – cheered them on.

“The Afghan security forces lost their morale due to intense propaganda by the Taliban,” a senior official from the city, who asked not to be named, told AFP. “Even before the Taliban attacks … most of the security forces put their weapons on the ground, took off their uniforms, and left their units and fled.”

On entering Zaranj, the fighters opened the gates of the city jail, officials said, freeing Taliban prisoners along with common criminals.

It is a one-way street. The Taliban are swallowing districts and cities. It won't be long before Kabul is taken.
 
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