An offensive launched by Afghan security forces failed to recapture the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Kunduz, the capital of the Afghan province of the same name, was part of the Taliban’s northern stronghold when the terrorist group was in power, making the city symbolically important to the insurgents.
The Taliban maintained its control of Kunduz on Tuesday as the insurgents kept fighting the Afghan security forces, which include army, police, and militia units.
Afghanistan’s government “failed to mount a credible response,” notes The New York Times (NYT), adding that the country “was plunged deeper into crisis a day after the Taliban seized the northern city of Kunduz.”
“Not only did a promised government counteroffensive on Kunduz not make headway during heavy fighting on Tuesday, but the day ended with yet another aggressive Taliban advance, with insurgents surrounding the airport to which hundreds of Afghan forces and at least as many civilians had retreated, thinking it would be safe,” notes The Times.
“After more than a day of relative silence as the situation worsened around Kunduz, the American military showed the first signs of increased involvement in what the Pentagon called ‘a setback,’ conducting at least two airstrikes, and reportedly more as attacks continued at the airport late Tuesday,” it adds.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook breiefed reporters on Tuesday as the the situation in Afghanistan worsened.
“Obviously, this is a setback,” he said, noting that U.S.-led coalition forces were with their Afghan counterparts in Kunduz as advisers.
The Afghan forces had “amassed a sizable force to retake city, numbering in the thousands,” Cook said. “We are confident they will defeat the Taliban and restore the city to Afghan control.”
The Times, citing anonymous officials, points out that the Taliban was pushing a broader offensive in northern Afghanistan, beyond Kunduz.
“One particular point of concern was Takhar Province, just east of Kunduz, where the insurgents were said to be heavily assaulting military checkpoints and government facilities in several districts over the past two days,” notes the report.
“Questions about how thousands of army, police and militia defenders could continue to fare so poorly against a Taliban force that most local and military officials put in the hundreds hung over President Ashraf Ghani’s government and its American allies,” it adds.
The Taliban has tightened its grip of Kunduz, reports BBC.
“Taliban fighters have seized a military hilltop site in Kunduz, tightening their grip on the northern Afghan city,” mentions the article.
“The capture of the Bala Hisar fortress came despite efforts by government reinforcements, backed by Nato airstrikes and special forces, to retake the city,” it adds. “It leaves the airport as the army’s last stronghold.”
Taliban violence has increased across Afghanistan since the U.S. and NATO forces ended their combat mission and withdrew most of their forces last year.
“The Taliban continued to consolidate their hold on the provincial capital, an important northern hub that has been the site of many bitter battles in the past two generations and that was the last major Taliban-held city to fall to the American-backed Northern Alliance offensive in 2001,” notes NYT, adding:
By the end of Monday, the insurgents had already set up checkpoints throughout the city, and they had issued edicts against looting. During the day on Tuesday, Taliban fighters roamed the city freely with chants blaring from their vehicles’ loudspeakers, according to residents reached by telephone. One man accused of being a thief, his mouth covered with material that bore illegible writing, was marched by Taliban fighters to the main city square, a resident said. He was forced to repent, and was freed after elders intervened and the man promised not to steal again.
The fall of Kunduz highlights the weaknesses of the U.S.-trained Afghan security forces.