The Taliban have won a great symbolic victory after their fighters seized a large city in northern Afghanistan as part of a seemingly unstoppable offensive in which they have captured four provincial capitals in just three days.
Gunmen invaded Kunduz on Sunday, a strategic city near the border with Tajikistan and a major political and military center. By midmorning they controlled the city center while pro-government forces withdrew to the nearby airport. Residents fled as smoke from the city’s burning market engulfed the sky.
Videos posted by Taliban fighters showed the city abandoned police complex, complete with cars and their main security Y intelligence buildings intact. “The enemy left behind vehicles, weapons and equipment,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted, promising further advances.
On Sunday, the Taliban also overwhelmed the provincial capital of Sar-e Pol. They were advancing into at least two other provinces in the north of the country and reached the city of Taloqan, where they seized a prison.
Of the four provincial capitals that have fallen since Friday, the northern city of Kunduz is by far the most significant gain for the Taliban. Insurgents have entered the city twice in recent years, in 2015 and 2016, but were unable to hold it back.
Kunduz was the scene of the Taliban’s surrender in 2001, when their northern army along with foreign fighters laid down their weapons in the wake of the US and UK-led invasion. The Biden administration’s decision in May to withdraw US troops two decades after what it considers an unwinnable war sparked a precipitous collapse in security and a rampant Taliban offensive across the country.
“The provincial capital Kunduz fell into the hands of the Taliban around 10 am,” a local official told The Guardian by phone. “The city of Kunduz has been under attack by the Taliban for the past two months. They intensified their attacks from various directions on the city on Friday. They totally captured it today. “
According to the official, the Taliban began their main attack around 5 a.m. Sunday after insurgents received reinforcements from neighboring areas, including Jawjzan province. The Taliban captured Sheberghan, the provincial capital of Jawzjan province on Saturday. The city was a stronghold of the notorious Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. On Friday, the Taliban invaded the southwestern financial center of Zaranj.
“The most intense clashes were at the intelligence and police headquarters and the local governor’s compound,” said another local official in Kunduz. “The security officers fought with them and then they withdrew to the airport. Several bodyguards of the local governor died when the compound was hit by mortars ”.
The Taliban have taken control of much of rural Afghanistan since international forces began the last stage of their withdrawal in early May. The Taliban are now besieging more than a dozen provincial capitals.
Government forces withdrew from Sar-e Pol, the capital of the northern province of the same name, on Sunday. The security forces together with the local police commander and the governor withdrew to an army post on the outskirts. By the afternoon, this was under heavy fire from the Taliban. The insurgent group video posted Claiming that the situation within the city had returned to normal.
“The city of Sar-e Pol fell to the Taliban this morning and is now under the control of the Taliban. They now have control over the wider province of Sar-e Pol, ”said a local. “The local police commander and governor, along with some forces, have retreated to an army post on the outskirts of the city, which is now also under attack by the Taliban. Now we are worried about the situation of the people in the city ”.
“They [the Taliban] Last night they began their assault on the city. The attack came from various directions. They invaded the provincial capital around 9 in the morning this morning. The first thing they did was break into the prison and free the prisoners, ”said the official.
Now that most of the American and Western soldiers are gone, the Pentagon has tried to stop the advance of the Taliban using air power. The Defense Ministry in Kabul confirmed that the United States launched airstrikes on Saturday night to support the embattled Afghan army in the city of Sheberghan.
“The Taliban were attacked by a B-52 in the town of Sheberghan, Jawzjan, at 6.30pm on Saturday. Terrorists have suffered heavy casualties as a result of an airstrike by the US air forces, “said Fawad Aman, deputy spokesman for the Defense Ministry.
Local residents in Kunduz and Sar-e Pol told The Guardian that insurgents were freely patrolling with captured Humvees in downtown areas. Many people had already fled, they said.
Latif, a resident, said: “The situation in the city of Sar-e Pol is devastating. There were heavy fighting during the night and in the morning we had a new ruler. They took over the city in the morning and now they travel freely on their motorcycles around the city. People are terrified. I can tell you that half of the city’s population had already fled their homes. Some people are out. There are sporadic shots in this corner of the city ”.
In Kunduz, residents said several shops caught fire after being attacked by mortars. One, Jamal, said: “The entire city of Kunduz is burning right now. Many shops have caught fire and a shadow of panic and fear hangs over the city. Many people fled to other areas, including areas under the control of the Taliban to escape the war. Most of the families have a member in their house to take care of the properties ”.
Fighting also continued in other parts of Afghanistan as the Taliban advanced towards the provincial capitals of Takhar and Samangan on Sunday afternoon. Heavy fighting also broke out in parts of the economically important western city of Herat on Saturday night.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism