M.he weekend the battle between the Taliban and the Afghan government entered a new phase. For months the insurgents had expanded their control over rural regions and gradually moved closer to numerous provincial capitals. Then, in late July and early August, the fighting reached the centers of several of the country’s largest cities for the first time. A week later, the Taliban have now achieved another important interim goal: within just three days, they have largely conquered five provincial capitals. Among them is Kunduz, one of the most important economic and strategic centers in the north.
The latest conquest began on Friday in southwest Afghanistan with the conquest of Saranj. The capital of the province of Nimrus, located on the border with Iran, apparently fell into the hands of the Islamists more or less without a fight. The Afghan security forces had “lost their courage to fight because of the intense propaganda of the Taliban,” a senior official was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying. Even before the Taliban attacks, most of them laid down their weapons and fled. The insurgents themselves published videos on social networks that allegedly showed residents of Saranj cheering them on while Taliban fighters drove through the streets of the city in captured military vehicles. Government offices are said to have been looted.
Criticism of the government’s strategy
The Islamists met stronger resistance in the city of Scheberghan, which they brought under their control on Saturday after several days of fighting. The conquest of the capital of the northern province of Jausdjan is symbolically significant. Scheberghan is the bastion of Abdul Raschid Dostum, one of the most important warlords in Afghanistan and the most bitter opponent of the Taliban. The former vice president had only returned from Turkey in the middle of last week, where he had received medical treatment.
On Saturday, while the fighting over Scheberghan was raging, Marshal Dostum, who had been awarded the highest military rank in the country in 2020, discussed the situation with President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul. According to media reports, in view of the ongoing offensive by the Taliban, Dostum proposed declaring martial law in the country. He also called on the population to support the army. Ghani recently announced that the number of special forces would be increased from 20,000 to 45,000.
Criticism of the government’s military strategy was voiced in Kabul over the weekend. The plan to arm citizens has so far done little to change the situation in favor of the army, according to reports in the Afghan media. Scheberghan’s case in particular shows this; only the troops commanded by Dostum’s son would have assisted the army. On Saturday afternoon it was reported that the government forces and representatives of the city administration had withdrawn to the airport on the outskirts of the city.
Other cities are under pressure
The situation on Sunday was apparently similar in Kunduz. Heavy fighting over the city in the north began on Saturday. The Taliban reported the capture of the city on Sunday. Amrudddin Wali, a member of the provincial assembly, told the Reuters agency that the government soldiers still had the airport and their own base under control. There were reports of army’s efforts to retake the city. Kunduz, with around 270,000 inhabitants, is a particularly important destination because it opens up access to the resource-rich provinces in northern Afghanistan and to neighboring countries in Central Asia.
Around the same time as Kunduz, another city in the north fell into the hands of the Taliban: Sar-i-Pul, the capital of the province of the same name. According to media reports, after heavy fighting during the night, the government troops left their posts and retired to a military base on the outskirts of the city of 180,000. There they and government officials would be shot at by the Taliban with mortar shells, it was said on Sunday afternoon. According to media reports, the capital of Tachar province in the northeast of the country also fell on Sunday.
Government troops in the large cities of Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar are also still being harassed by the Taliban. According to media reports, American President Joe Biden ordered air strikes to stop the insurgents’ further advance. Washington’s embassy in Kabul over the weekend called on the Taliban to agree to a ceasefire and resume peace negotiations. At the same time, the United States and Great Britain called on their citizens to leave Afghanistan immediately.