The Taliban reconquered Kunduz city, part of the group’s former stronghold in northern Afghanistan and the first provincial capital seized by the militants since they lost power following the U.S.-led invasion in October 2001.
President Obama was highlighting his administration’s accomplishment of withdrawing most American troops from Afghanistan as the Taliban advanced further into the key city on Monday.
Afghanistan has experienced a Taliban resurgence since the U.S.-led forces ended their combat mission in December 2014 and withdrew most of their forces. Afghan troops were left in the lead of security operations.
“The loss of Kunduz, even if the Afghan government manages to take it back soon, is an ominous sign. It’s Afghanistan’s fifth largest city and the capital of the province of the same name,” reports CNN.
“This is the biggest town they’ve been able to take since 2001,” said CNN’s international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. “This is a significant target and prize for the Taliban.
The Taliban attack began at dawn on Monday. Taliban members captured key government buildings, including a local jail. They liberated 500 inmates from that prison, including other Taliban terrorists.
Taliban members, within hours of entering Kunduz city, were posing for victory selfies that were disseminated on Facebook and Twitter.
Afghan security forces, backed by a U.S. airstrike, have mounted a “large-scale operation” to root out the Taliban from the key provincial capital, reports NBC News.
On Tuesday, which marks his one-year anniversary in power, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said reinforcements had been deployed to Kunduz.
“Our main problem is that the enemy is using civilians as shields,” Ghani said in a televised address. “We have predicted that this year will be the most challenging year for our forces, unfortunately our prediction was true.”
The fall of Kunduz reportedly sheds light on the weaknesses of the U.S.-trained Afghan security forces.
CNN notes, “The U.S. government has tried to portray the handover of combat duties to Afghan troops as a step forward…But analysts have expressed concern about issues like corruption, poor recruitment and problematic coordination among the different branches of the Afghan security forces: the army, police and local militias.”
“The Taliban’s intent to try to take Kunduz was well flagged, and yet Afghan forces were unable to hold the city despite outnumbering the attackers,” adds the report.
CNN also notes that the fall of the provincial capital shows the Taliban remains a resilient foe and deals “a fresh blow for the Afghan government” while complicating the next move for the United States.
Taliban terrorists seized Kunduz as the American officials debate the size of the U.S. military presence they want to maintain in Afghanistan in the coming years.
“The Taliban appear to have made the most of the first summer fighting season since NATO troops took a step back. But there are still doubts about the militant group’s ability to hold onto large areas of territory,” reports CNN.
Kunduz “has symbolic significance for the Taliban as it was their former northern stronghold before their government was overthrown” in 2001, reports BBC.
Afghan security forces and civilians have suffered a record number of casualties at the hands of the Taliban since President Obama declared an end to the combat mission last year.
The Afghan Taliban faced a lot of difficulties this year with the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) taking some of its defectors and recruits as well as infighting over the designation of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour to replace longtime group leader Mullah Omar.
“Even as our economy is growing and our troops have largely returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, we see in our debates about America’s role in the world a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China, or a resurgent Russia; a revolutionary Iran, or an Islam that is incompatible with peace,” Obama told the UN General Assembly on Monday. “We see an argument made that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force; that cooperation and diplomacy will not work.”
“I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary,” he added.
The following day, while speaking at a UN summit to counter ISIS and violent extremism, the President boasted about “success over many years in crippling the al Qaeda core in the tribal regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Afghanistan’s Taliban regime provided safe havens to al-Qaeda jihadists in the months leading to the the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. homeland.