Afghanistan: Taliban overrun city of Kunduz

BY: DW.COM
In early July, these Afghan militia were patrolling against the Taliban in the Tange Farkhar area of Taloqan in northern Takhar province
In early July, these Afghan militia were patrolling against the Taliban in the Tange Farkhar area of Taloqan in northern Takhar province

The Taliban have overrun the northern provincial capital of Kunduz as part of a major offensive. It's a major blow for the Afghan forces and it's not the only city where fierce fighting is taking place.

Where else has the Taliban launches offensives?

Taliban forces are fighting in the capital of southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, Lashkar Gah.

Airstrikes damaged a health clinic and high school in the city provincial council member said Sunday.

A Defense Ministry statement confirmed that airstrikes were carried out in parts of the city. It said forces targeted Taliban positions, killing 54 fighters and wounding 23 others. It made no mention of a clinic or school being bombed.

Majid Akhund, deputy chairman of the Helmand provincial council, said airstrikes hit a health clinic and a school in the city's 7th police district late Saturday. But he said the area is under Taliban control so any casualties could have been caused by the Taliban there.

Pro-Taliban sources said that the Taliban have taken complete control of city of Taloqan in northeastern Takhar Province that borders Tajikistan.
Fighting was also reported on the outskirts of Herat, in the west, and Kandahar in the south.

How has the international community responded?
Carl Bildt, co-chair of think tank the European Council on Foreign Relations has accused the Biden administration of pulling out of Afghanistan prematurely.

Bildt, who is a former Swedish prime minister, said "the United States is running away."

"Saigon 1975 all over again," he tweeted, referring to Washington’s withdrawal from Vietnam.

Ambassador Ghulam M. Isaczai, Afghanistan's permanent representative to the United Nations, said the ongoing violence was "too painful to watch."

The senior diplomat tweeted a graphic video that he said showed a dead child who had been killed by Islamist militants.

"Afghan children are bearing the brunt of this violence unleashed by Taliban on Afghanistan. The world cannot sit on the sideline for another tragedy to unfold," he wrote on Twitter.

DW has not been able to independently verify the video's content.

The Taliban's sweeping offensive

Taliban overrun Kunduz

The fundamentalist Taliban group overran the northern city of Kunduz on Sunday.

The Taliban's advance on the provincial capital comes after two others fell to the insurgents in the past two days.

The insurgents have taken control of all key government facilities in the city except for a military base and the airport, where high-ranking local officials have reportedly pulled back to.

The airport lies around 8 kilometers (5 miles) south of Kunduz city center.

The Taliban overran the city amid "fierce street-to-street fighting" Amruddin Wali, a member of the Kunduz provincial council, told AFP.

The Taliban claimed in a Twitter post that it had seized a large number of armored vehicles, vehicles, weapons and military equipment.

The ministry of defense said government forces were fighting to retake these key sites.

"The commando forces have launched a clearing operation. Some areas, including the national radio and TV buildings, have been cleared of the terrorist Taliban," it said in a statement.

Fighting was continuing at the city's airport and other parts of the city, provincial council member Ghulam Rabani Rabani said.

Health officials in Kunduz said that 14 bodies, including those of women and children, and more than 30 injured people had been taken to hospital.

Kunduz has been a perennial target for the Taliban, who briefly overran the city in 2015 and again in 2016 but never managed to hold it for long.

It is a strategic crossroads with good access to much of northern Afghanistan as well as the capital, Kabul, about 335 kilometers (200 miles) away.

It is one of the country's larger cities with a population of more than 340,000. Kabul has a population of over 4 million.

The German Bundeswehr's Kunduz connection

The German military was stationed in Kunduz province from 2003 to 2013, following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

More Germans were killed in clashes in Kunduz and the neighboring province of Baghlan than anywhere else.

Last year, before the Bundeswehr withdrew from Afghanistan, around 100 German soldiers were stationed in the region in Camp Pamir.

Heavy fighting in Sar-e-Pul
Meanwhile, fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces in the northern Sar-e-Pul province has reportedly reached the provincial capital on Sunday.

"The Taliban have surrounded an army battalion on the outskirts of the city. All other parts of the city are under Taliban control," Mohammad Hussein Mujahidzada, a member of the Sar-e-Pul provincial council, told news agency AFP.

Taliban sieze Sheberghan

The fundamentalist Taliban group seized the northern city of Sheberghan on Saturday.

Sheberghan is the capital of Jowzjan Province and is home to Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum.

Dostum, who is allied with the United States, said he is calling for reinforcements from the Afghan government.

Kabul-based journalist Franz Marty told DW it's likely that Dostum's forces will wage a "counteroperation" in the coming days.

Taliban fighters helped free prisoners from the city's jail, according to videos on social media.

The deputy governor of Jowzjan, Qader Malia, told the AFP news agency that the city had "unfortunately fallen."

Taliban making rapid territorial gains

The Taliban are ramping up their offensive as the US and NATO allies pull out troops from the country.

Anti-Taliban protesters in recent weeks have shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is the greatest) to show their support for Afghan security forces in the heavy fighting against the group.

The Taliban captured the provincial capital of Zaranj in southwestern Nimroz province on Friday.

Journalist Ali Latifi, who is also based in Kabul, told DW that the Taliban may be trying to "confuse" Afghan government forces, as the two provincial capitals are located in completely different areas of the country.

"The Taliban are trying to stretch the security forces out as thin and as wide as they possibly can," Latifi said. At the same time, he said it begs the question whether the Taliban can keep up fighting on multiple fronts as well.

Could the fighting spread to Kabul?

In regards to the fighting possibly spreading to the country's capital, Kabul, Latifi said the "fortress city" is more secure than other parts of the country.

"Kabul is where they will put all of their focus and their attention," Latifi said, referring to the Afghan government.

"If they do manage to lose Kabul, then that's obviously the ultimate blow to them. They will do everything they can to hold on to the national capital," he added.

A bomb killed an Afghan Air Force pilot in Kabul on Saturday, with the Taliban claiming responsibility for the attack.

Kamran Bokhari, the director of analytical development at the Washington D.C.-based Newlines Institute think tank, told DW that the war in Afghanistan is "far from over" and asserted the Taliban are by and large "a rural and suburban force."

"They have not yet managed to demonstrate the capability to mount successful assaults against well-defended cities and provincial capitals," Bokhari said of the group.

Complete US pullout expected later this month
President Joe Biden announced in April that he would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September 11. The pulllout is now expected to be fully complete by August 31, according to recent statements from the commander-in-chief.

Critics of the withdrawal have warned that the Taliban could possibly take over the entire country and roll back advancements in women's rights.

The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in pursuit of al-Qaida, the jihadist group behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Taliban was ousted from power during the invasion, with the US working with NATO allies to train the Afghan security forces.

kmm, wd/csb (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)