Taliban Offensive Gobbles Up Territory in Northern Afghanistan

Members of Afghan security forces take their positions during an ongoing clash between Taliban and Afghan forces in Mihtarlam, the capital of Laghman Province on May 24, 2021, as the insurgents pressed on with their campaign to seize new territories as the US military continued with its troop pullout. (Photo …
NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP via Getty Images

The Taliban on Monday announced it captured a key district in the northern province of Kunduz and its forces have encircled the provincial capital, the latest battlefield gains in a relentless campaign waged by the Islamist extremists against the internationally recognized government in Kabul as U.S. and NATO forces prepare to end their 20-year intervention in Afghanistan.

“Dozens of districts have fallen to the Taliban since May 1. Like Imam Sahib district in northern Kunduz, their significance often lies in their proximity to roads and major cities. Imam Sahib is strategically located near Afghanistan’s northern border with Tajikistan, a key supply route from Central Asia,” Iran’s Tasnim News Agency noted.

The Taliban reportedly captured Imam Sahib district early Monday afternoon after two days of intense fighting. Taliban forces were reportedly able to seize the government and police headquarters in the district from Afghan National Army soldiers fighting alongside local police officers.

According to Tasnim, the Taliban now controls several districts in Kunduz and is close to controlling local transportation, prompting a growing number of residents to flee Kunduz for Kabul.

“The Taliban were all over the road, checking cars. We were very scared,” said one such refugee.

Taliban social media accounts posted videos of Afghan government troops surrendering, receiving cash payments from the Taliban, and then returning home. Afghan government officials insisted police and military troops put up a stiff fight with significant casualties, although it did not release detailed counts of the dead and wounded.

Provincial officials admitted to Khaama Press on Monday that the Taliban took over other key districts over the weekend and the insurgents are close to controlling the major roads that link Kabul with Afghanistan’s northern provinces.

At least 11 districts fell to Taliban control over the weekend, causing almost the entire population of some cities to flee the area. Residents of Faryab, near the border with Turkmenistan, warned the Taliban is “at their gates” and the capital city of Maimana could fall soon.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said Monday that reinforcements have been sent to Maimana, but local residents were not reassured, pointing to other cities seized by the Taliban while government troops were unaccountably delayed. Skeptical northern residents complained that even when the Afghan military arrives, its troops are prone to either surrendering or retreating with minimal resistance.

Afghan officials said civilians in the northern provinces are beginning to show “readiness and willingness to get armed and stand with the Afghan security forces.”

The mujahideen, veterans of Afghanistan’s guerrilla war against Soviet invaders in the 1980s, are pledging support to the new militia movement. Mujahideen leaders expressed contempt for the Taliban, who they view as puppets of foreign interests like Pakistan, and said they have enough munitions and loyal manpower to help push back the Taliban offensive. 

Parliamentary speaker Rahman Rahmani and some legislators from northern Afghanistan on Monday urged the creation of a “high council of combat” to help mobilize and train “public uprising forces” against the Taliban. 

The lawmakers bluntly criticized Kabul for not doing enough to shore up both public and military morale against the Taliban onslaught, which Rhamani said included “psychological war” tactics, such as greatly exaggerating their numbers so targeted villages surrender without a fight.

“The government should be asked why districts have been handed over without resistance,” said one unhappy member of parliament. Others criticized the “shallow leaders” of the Afghan government and military for weakening morale by avoiding the front lines, and for not doing enough to counter malevolent foreign influence.

“The war management is weak because they are not keeping one commander two months in one assignment. They are deployed from one place to another and from that place to still another. All the time passes during these reshuffle,” MP Amir Mohammad Khaksar complained.

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