World View: Afghan Taliban Capture of Kunduz has Major Repercussions for Central Asia

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Taliban scores major strategic victory in Afghanistan, capturing Kunduz
  • The Afghan Taliban return to Kunduz after fourteen years
  • Repercussions for Central Asia

Taliban scores major strategic victory in Afghanistan, capturing Kunduz

Kunduz citizens greeting Taliban on Monday, from the twitter feed of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (
Kunduz citizens greeting Taliban on Monday, from the twitter feed of Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (

The Afghan Taliban achieved a major propaganda boost and significant strategic victory on Monday by capturing the city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, near the border with Tajikistan. Kunduz has a population of about 300,000, and is a major transportation hub for the north of the country, providing a pathway for trade throughout Central Asia.

The Taliban have attacked Kunduz in the past, but were driven back. On Monday, hundreds of Taliban fighters launched an offensive from three sides, catching Afghan forces by surprise. In the past, when there was a large contingent of US-led coalition forces, it would have been possible to stop the assault by means of air strikes on the pickup trucks carrying the Taliban fighters into the city, but attempts to create an Afghan air force have not been successful.

The Taliban have looted government buildings with intelligence information, UN offices, weapons stores, and banks with millions of dollars. In addition, the Taliban have freed 700 prisoners from the city’s jails, including many very dangerous Taliban commanders and leaders. The capture of Kunduz will lead to further Taliban advances, including major operations next summer.

The Afghan military is promising to recapture the city, but any attempt to do so will result in large numbers of civilian deaths, because the Taliban are digging in to heavily populated areas.

Kunduz’s position as a potential gateway to and from central Asia makes it an attractive target for insurgents, and the government has claimed that foreign militants linked to ISIS were involved in the recent unrest, as well as militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Images showing Taliban fighters driving in vehicles allegedly captured from the security forces have since been posted on social media, such as the one at the beginning of this article. BBC and Reuters and Long War Journal

The Afghan Taliban return to Kunduz after fourteen years

Afghanistan was embroiled in an extremely bloody civil war between 1991-96, after which the Taliban took control of the government. Nato forces pushed the Taliban out of Kunduz during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

Kunduz was the last city in the north to be held by the Taliban regime. In the aftermath, under the Nato mission, German soldiers arrived in Kunduz in October 2003 expecting to see little combat, but security had begun to deteriorate even before the Germans withdrew in late 2013.

By 2015, the Taliban were taking control of much of the area along the northern border with Tajikistan. In April of this year, the Taliban came close to capturing Kunduz. When it appeared in April that Kunduz was on the brink of falling, the government panicked and sent reinforcements. The city was saved from collapse, but residents described it as a hollow victory because of continuing widespread violence in the region. Deutsche Welle and The National (UAE – 20-June-2015)

Repercussions for Central Asia

As we reported recently ( “16-Sep-15 World View — Russia’s economic slowdown means financial disaster for Central Asia”), Russia’s Vladimir Putin has been tightening his grip on Tajikistan by deploying troops to the border with Afghanistan to defend against the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh), the Taliban, and other militant groups.

Putin was quoted as saying,

Terrorists publicly claim that they set their sights on attacking Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. They are planning to expand their activities to Europe, Russia, Central and Southeast Asia. …

The real threat of terrorist and extremist groups infiltrating the countries neighboring Afghanistan is rising. …

Here in Tajikistan you are confronted with problems, with encroachments and attempts to rock the situation, and I would like to say that you can always count on our assistance and support.

Putin is using a similar strategy with other Central Asian countries as well.

The Taliban seizure of Kunduz provides a major boost to Putin’s argument that these Central Asian countries should allow Russian troops to deploy on their soil. He could also point out that analysts believe that the militias capturing Kunduz also included fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). And this comes just days after another Taliban-linked group, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), claimed that it had taken control of large areas of Afghanistan’s northern border with Tajikistan.

The international perception of the differences between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama are becoming more pronounced. Putin is doubling down to support his client in Syria, and is deploying troops on the Afghanistan border, while Obama is doing nothing for his client in Afghanistan, and is weak and dithering in Syria and Iraq.

President Obama had originally promised to end America’s military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Most of America’s troops were withdrawn, but the President extended the deadline to the end of 2016, just before he leaves office, and with a much smaller force of 9,800 troops.

The capture of Kunduz is a highly significant milestone in the increasing success of the Taliban in recapturing control of Afghanistan. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is lobbying to slow the American troop withdrawal by arguing that “Afghanistan is shouldering the burden of fighting foreign extremism” and that ISIS is one of several extremist groups threatening the country’s stability.

After a disastrous outcome to his policies in Iraq and Syria, Obama is now facing another potentially disastrous output in Afghanistan. He will face a number of difficult decisions in the next few months. Long War Journal (25-Sept) and Foreign Policy and Deutsche Welle

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Afghanistan, Kunduz, Taliban, Tajikistan, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, Islamic Jihad Union, IJU, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Iraq, Syria, Ashraf Ghani
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