Taliban forces reportedly captured the provincial capital of Kunduz on Sunday, bagging their third capital city in a single day after taking Sheberghan in Jawzjan province and Sar-e-Pul, capital of a province with the same name.
On Monday, they claimed to capture two more capital cities, Taloqan in Takhar province and Aibak in Samangan. The Taliban captured its first provincial capital Friday. So, its total from the weekend now stands at six.
Zaranj in Nimroz province reportedly fell on Friday, the first provincial capital to fall to the extremist insurgency. The strategically vital capital cities of Herat and Kandahar are still under heavy Taliban pressure and could be among the next to fall.
Kunduz, with a population of about 270,000, was the biggest strategic prize for the Taliban to date. If it can retain control of the city, the Taliban will have effective control of Afghanistan’s northern mineral resources and vital trade routes to Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Afghanistan’s Khaama Press reported massive attacks on Sunday morning, causing residents to flee from “horrific fires.” The Taliban blamed airstrikes from the Afghan Air Force for setting the fires.
The Afghan Defense Ministry countered by sending more elite commando troops to Kunduz and recapturing some areas of the city, but by Sunday afternoon the Taliban claimed to be in control of police headquarters, the main jail in Kunduz, and the headquarters of the national security directorate. Taliban invaders released prisoners in the jail.
“Heavy clashes started yesterday afternoon. All government headquarters are in control of the Taliban, only the army base and the airport is with ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] from where they are resisting the Taliban,” provincial lawmaker Amruddina Wali said Sunday. The Taliban on Monday predicted its forces would soon capture the airport.
“The security situation is not good and we fled to save our lives. It is like a horror movie,” a Kunduz resident told AFP on Sunday. Others feared food and water shortages during a prolonged Taliban siege of the city.
The Taliban reportedly captured the governor’s compound, police headquarters, and security directorate offices in Sar-e-Pul on Sunday, driving ANDSF forces back to the local military base. Local residents said isolated regiments of government troops still held only two districts of the city.
Sar-e-Pul officials complained the central government neglected their defense, perhaps deliberately, as quoted by Afghanistan’s Tolo News on Monday:
“The central and local governments have paid no attention. The security forces did not even have food while they were under siege,” said Yar Mohammad Maihanparast, the head of the Sar-e-Pul residents’ council in Kabul.
Some lawmakers from Sar-e-Pul said the government’s inattention led to the fall of the city and the loss of dozens of large pieces of military equipment to the Taliban.
“The inefficient officials in Sar-e-Pul made the situation worse and provided the grounds for collapse. I believe that Sar-e-Pul collapsed due to a deal,” said Sayed Hayatullah Alemi, an MP from Sar-e-Pul.
Officials in Kunduz and Sheberghan likewise accused the Defense Ministry and security directorate of underestimating the Taliban and failing to support the city’s defenders when it came under heavy attack.
Sheberghan fell after a week of sustained fighting, abruptly silencing over a dozen television, radio, and Internet media networks operating out of the city. As of Monday, local sources said only the airport near the city was still under government control.
The central government sent some reinforcements to the besieged city, but its defenses were more significantly shored up by “public uprising forces” – i.e. local militias – under the command of Yar Mohammad Dostum, son of former Afghan vice president Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum.
On Sunday night, Takhar province’s parliamentary representative Ashraf Ayni said its capital city of Taloqan has fallen to the Taliban. As in Kunduz, Taliban fighters reportedly focused on capturing government buildings and the central prison in Taloqan, so they could release prisoners. International media quoted local sources confirming the fall of Taloqan on Sunday.
A Taliban spokesman on Monday claimed the extremists have also captured a sixth capital city, Aibak in the northern province of Samangan. The deputy provincial governor of Samangan conceded the Taliban is in “full control” of Aibak in comments to AFP on Monday.
Sefatullah Samangani, deputy governor of Samangan, said on Monday the Taliban captured Aibak without a fight after local community elders pleaded with city officials to avoid a bitter and doomed struggle to hold the provincial capital.
“The governor accepted and withdrew all forces from the city,” Samangani said.
White House officials said on Sunday that President Joe Biden has been briefed on the Taliban’s advances, but has not changed his plans to withdraw U.S. troops.
Capturing Sheberghan, Kunduz, and Taloqan gives the Taliban a clear shot at taking Mazi-i-Sharif, the largest city in northern Afghanistan.
Local warlord and onetime provincial governor Atta Mohammad Noor — once seen as the biggest security headache facing the Kabul government after U.S. forces subdued the Taliban — vowed on Monday he would fight for Mazar-i-Sharif “until the last drop of my blood.”
“I prefer dying in dignity than dying in despair,” Noor said. He also disputed both the Taliban’s claim of capturing Sheberghan and government officials conceding the loss of the city.
“Sheberghan City of Jowzjan hasn’t fallen to the Taliban and it never will,” Noor said. “We are together and restate our joint commitment to stand by the ANDSF to defend Afghanistan.”
“Like before, we will change north to the graveyard of the Taliban. The resistance will continue,” he said, referring to the alliance of former anti-Soviet mujahideen militia that helped break the Taliban after the U.S. invasion.
Afghan government officials disputed some of the Taliban’s claimed conquests, dismissing them as “propaganda” intended to “create anxiety for the civilian population.” The ANDSF insisted it has a good chance of recapturing vital districts taken by Taliban forces and pointed to its thus-far successful defense of vital cities such as Kandahar and Lashkar Gah against heavy attacks as evidence it can repel the Taliban’s lightning offensive.
The U.S. and British governments both advised their citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately on Saturday, citing the deteriorating security situation.
“These Taliban actions to forcibly impose its rule are unacceptable and contradict its claim to support a negotiated settlement in the Doha peace process. They demonstrate wanton disregard for the welfare and rights of civilians and will worsen this country’s humanitarian crisis,” the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said Saturday.