Home News As Afghan Cities Fall to Taliban, Brutal New Chapter Unfolds

As Afghan Cities Fall to Taliban, Brutal New Chapter Unfolds

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban seized three Afghan cities on Sunday, together with the business hub of Kunduz, officers stated, escalating a sweeping offensive that has claimed 5 provincial capitals in three days and proven how little management the federal government has over the nation with out American navy energy to guard it.

By no means earlier than in 20 years of conflict had the Taliban immediately assaulted multiple provincial capital at a time. Now, three fell on Sunday alone — Kunduz, Sar-i-Pul and Taliqan, all within the north — and much more populous cities are underneath siege, in a devastating setback for the Afghan authorities.

The autumn of those cities is going down simply weeks earlier than U.S. forces are set to finish a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, laying naked a troublesome predicament for President Biden.

Because the U.S. withdrawal started, the Taliban have captured greater than half of Afghanistan’s 400-odd districts, according to some assessments. And their latest assaults on provincial capitals have violated the 2020 peace deal between the Taliban and the US. Underneath that deal, which laid the trail for the American withdrawal, the Taliban dedicated to not attacking provincial facilities like Kunduz.

On Sunday, administration officers stated that Mr. Biden had been briefed on the occasions in Afghanistan however was not altering course on the ultimate troop pullout.

The Taliban’s speedy victories have amplified fears concerning the Afghan safety forces’ capacity to defend what territory stays underneath authorities management. Since Could, the insurgents have swept throughout the nation’s rural areas and, in late June, they started assaulting main Afghan cities for the primary time in years.

Provincial capitals are sometimes the final islands of presidency presence in provinces flush with Taliban fighters, they usually shelter lots of of hundreds of Afghans who’ve been not too long ago displaced by combating. Including to many Afghans’ unease, the Taliban have trumpeted their latest victories on social media in a concerted effort to advertise the sense that their return to energy is inevitable.

The string of Taliban victories has intensified each the strategic and psychological encircling of Kabul, the nation’s capital. Whereas the Taliban have continued their assassination marketing campaign towards Afghan officers and civil society figures within the capital in latest days, they haven’t but begun any intense navy operations round Kabul, maybe ready to gauge the American and authorities response to their latest triumphs.

The simultaneous sieges on provincial hubs have exhausted Afghan safety forces and stretched navy sources dangerously skinny. Overwhelmed, the Afghan forces have targeting defending key cities like Lashkar Gah and Kandahar within the south, Herat within the west and Kunduz within the north in latest days — leaving others susceptible to seize.

On Friday, the Taliban seized on that opening: In Zaranj, a provincial capital close to the border with Iran, insurgents confronted little resistance upon coming into town. A day later, they captured one other capital, Sheberghan, the northern stronghold of the warlord Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, whose militia forces have been overrun. On Sunday, Taliban forces broke by in three extra provincial capitals, together with Kunduz, an important business hub that the group has lengthy coveted as each a strategic and symbolic prize.

The shift within the Taliban navy offensive to capturing Afghan cities is the start of a bloody new chapter unfolding in Afghanistan, specialists say.

“That is now a unique sort of conflict, harking back to Syria not too long ago or Sarajevo within the not-so distant previous,” Deborah Lyons, the particular consultant of the U.N. secretary-general for Afghanistan, stated at a particular session of the United Nations Safety Council on Friday. “To assault city areas is to knowingly inflict monumental hurt and trigger large civilian casualties.”

Ratcheting up the stress on one other entrance, the insurgents have additionally highlighted their capacity to make focused strikes inside Kabul: This week the Taliban claimed duty for an hourslong attack on the residence of a high navy official and the assassination of a senior authorities official in Kabul.

The Taliban’s siege of Kunduz, a metropolis of 374,000 individuals, started in late June, they usually wore down authorities troopers and police models in clashes that raged across the clock. On Saturday evening, the combating intensified because the Taliban made a closing push towards exhausted authorities troops.

Ahmad Shokur Ghaznawi, a Kunduz resident, stated he had heard a barrage of gunfire as safety forces and Taliban fighters clashed within the alley simply outdoors his house. Because the combating intensified, about 50 members of the Afghan safety forces massed within the alley. However the authorities troopers appeared worn down.

“They stated that they have been hungry — they’d run out of bread,” Mr. Ghaznawi stated.

By Sunday morning, the safety forces had retreated to a city south of town and Taliban fighters flooded into the streets on bikes, in police autos and in Humvees.

Because the Taliban raised their flag over Kunduz’s predominant sq. and launched lots of of inmates from the central jail, a way of unease rippled throughout town: Plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky, after two of town’s predominant markets caught hearth. Fearing their shops could be looted, shopkeepers moved their items into their properties.

“The individuals simply need to flee alive and depart all their belongings behind,” stated Sulaiman Satarzada, 28, a businessman in Kunduz.

By the day’s finish, the Taliban had additionally captured the northern metropolis of Taliqan, the capital of Takhar Province, and Sar-i-Pul, the capital of the northern province with the identical identify. With Sar-i-Pul Province now principally underneath their management, the insurgents have positioned themselves to assault Mazar-i-Sharif, the financial hub and capital of Balkh Province, from two completely different instructions: Sar-i-Pul and Jowjzan within the west and Kunduz within the east.

By Sunday night, no central authorities officers — together with President Ashraf Ghani — had commented on the seize of the 5 provincial capitals; the Afghan Ministry of Protection merely stated that Afghanistan’s safety forces have been combating across the nation, killing scores of Taliban fighters.

For almost 20 years, the US and NATO have engaged within the nation-building pursuit of coaching, increasing and equipping Afghanistan’s police, military and air forces, spending tens of billions of {dollars} to construct authorities safety forces that may safeguard their very own nation.

However the Taliban’s offensive has revealed the fragility of these forces.

1000’s of troopers have surrendered or deserted in latest months. The nation’s destiny has rested within the arms of air and commando forces who’ve served because the nation’s firefighters, despatched to sizzling spots with hopes of turning the tide towards the rebel group. In actuality, what have been as soon as thought of elite forces have reworked into foot troopers who’re a number of the solely troops able to defending territory underneath assault by the Taliban.

The US, regardless of pledging to finish navy operations by Aug. 31, has committed more aircraft and drones — now based mostly outdoors the nation — to assist beat again the Taliban by airstrikes. The last-ditch effort to prop up the Afghan safety forces helped in some areas together with Kandahar, a linchpin of the South and a former Taliban stronghold the place combating intensified in latest weeks.

On Sunday night, Afghan safety forces started a navy operation to flush Taliban fighters out of Kunduz in a bid to retake town, officers stated. However battered by weeks of intense combating, the prospect of a victory was something however sure.

“We’re so drained, and the safety forces are so drained,” stated Sayed Jawad Hussaini, the deputy police chief of a district in Kunduz metropolis. “On the identical time, we hadn’t acquired reinforcements and plane didn’t goal the Taliban on time.”

Because the entrance strains are pushed deeper into cities, Afghan civilians have been trapped amid these escalating ranges of violence — together with authorities airstrikes, shelling and the Taliban combating from individuals’s properties — inflicting civilian casualties to soar.

In Kunduz, as much as 70 civilians a day are delivered to Kunduz Regional Hospital, in accordance with Mohammed Naim Mangal, the power’s director. Between Saturday and Sunday alone, the hospital triaged almost 100 wounded individuals.

However with intense combating within the streets, many others who have been wounded couldn’t make it to medical facilities. The hospital itself was hit by 4 mortars on Saturday.

By Sunday night, as town braced for extra violence as authorities forces started an operation to retake town, solely two docs remained on the hospital. The remainder of the workers fled.