On Monday, Sept. 28, the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan, was overtaken by Taliban forces, causing thousands of residents to flee the war-torn area, as this sample essay discusses.
The taliban takes over Afghanistan
The capture of Kunduz has been a wakeup call to the administration of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, which has seen the Taliban slowly encroach on the northern province since late 2014. This latest capture—the Taliban’s first major takeover in 14 years—exemplifies the Mideast nation’s imperiled state since the wrap-up of NATO’s Afghan combat mission last December. The Taliban’s gain follows recent inroads by ISIS in the eastern part of Afghanistan.
Despite promises from the Afghan government that a counterattack was imminent, only a few dozen troops were seen in the nearby airport where people had fled during the collapse of Kunduz. Following the takeover, insurgents were burning police buildings, looting businesses, and hoisting the Taliban white flag over landmarks throughout the city.
Diminished faith in Afghan forces
Now that the Taliban has captured one of the largest Afghan cities, faith in the government’s handling of local insurgencies has severely diminished. With a population that topped 300,000 in recent years, Kunduz has ranked as one of the nation’s urban strongholds (Jones). However, the slow advanced made by militants in the area caused a growing exodus over the last year. As thousands flee from the now-fallen city, it’s population is believed to be significantly lower since the last count.
In the eyes of political observers, the collapse of Kunduz is seen not as a show of insurgent strength, but as an example of weakening and fatigue by the Afghan military. Since last year, officials had noted the threat of the Taliban’s impinging presence near the capital. Others—both in and outside the country—downplayed the militant’s gains and dismissed the menace as peripheral at best.
Consequently, not much had been done by northern military officers to stop the growing Taliban threat in the six months leading up to the city’s capture, despite the fact that local forces had been trained in counterinsurgency measures as part of a multi-billion NATO initiative.
As acknowledged by Kunduz council head Mohammad Yousuf Ayoubi, the government had not waged any counterattacks, even as militants closed in on the city’s borders and ultimately gained control of 70 percent of the surrounding province (McLaughlin).
Accusing the Afghan government of “neglecting Kunduz and its people,” Ayoubi further accused local officials of being “incompetent,” which he sees as a “major reason for the presence of the Taliban,” (Goldstein).
Of the city’s militia leaders, one of the most salient and vocal has been Mir Alam, who commands a fleet of thousands in the northern province. Exiled north of Kunduz in light of the Taliban’s conquest, he disbelieved the government’s promise to send more troops to the area as he spoke with reporters. Noting the threats of insurgency in places nearby, Alam stated by phone that he doesn’t “see any reinforcement coming to retake Kunduz city back,” (Goldstein).
The Kunduz Taliban takeover as it unfolded
According to Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, the takeover started during the wee hours of Monday, when militants moved in on the city from three corners. In certain areas, the Taliban clashed with local forces, but most of the city folded without a fight. Within hours, the white flag was being raised at prominent city locations, including the main hospital.
The capture marks a sudden surge of power for the Islamic fundamentalist organization, which gained worldwide infamy in 2001 for its role in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings.
A local mechanic, Abdullah Khan, told reporters that the takeover went pretty much unchallenged in his neighborhood. He further claimed that residents simply fled the areas in doves as merely half a dozen militants stormed the streets to raise flags.
As the events of the day unfolded, images went viral across the Internet that showed militants commanding the city’s thoroughfares with guns and flags in hand. The turning point came as Taliban spokesmen took to loudspeakers and announced that they were taking control of Kunduz.
One spokesman for the militants, Zabihullah Mujahid, got on Twitter and ordered locals to stay indoors until the turmoil subsided. On the west side of Kunduz, residents were spotted mingling with members of the Taliban.
As residents began fleeing the city, the setup of checkpoints along the highways by Taliban forces caused many people to use back roads as alternate routes to safety.
The Taliban’s easy capture of Kunduz has exposed the ill-preparedness of Afghan forces to deal with insurgencies in the absence of U.S. air and ground support. In the words of one army officer who narrowly evaded the seizure of his Bala Hisar fortress on the first day after the takeover, the city fell to the militants due to a “lack of confidence among [the government’s] own forces,” (Stancati and Totakhil).
Taliban power struggles in the aftermath
On the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 30, Afghan officials declared a counteroffensive, and by the following day, it briefly appeared as though local troops were regaining control of Kunduz. More than a 1,000 army and police officers stormed the city from several directions, including the airport, which remained firmly under Afghan control. Armed with grenades, rifles, and night-vision specs, the troops arrived on ground and via helicopter. After a night of heavy bloodshed, Afghan officers had reclaimed several administrative buildings and were commanding the thoroughfares, where the bodies of insurgents were piled up along the street sides.
Afghan troops also regained control of Imam Sahib and Chardara: two outer districts of the Kunduz province that had been swarmed with insurgents since the whole takeover began.
Just as it seemed that government forces had everything back under control, however, Taliban militants redoubled their efforts. As hours passed, the militants refused to concede victory and ultimately retook several buildings. With fire shots heard throughout Kunduz, residents stayed indoors; those who did dare walk into the streets were assailed by militants.
In the evening of Oct. 1, militants stormed the nearby Wardoj district in Badakhshan province. One local official called this “a strategic district,” the capture of which would lead to the fall of neighboring areas (Stancati and Totakhil).
This latest turmoil has dealt a further blow to the hope of a peace agreement between the Taliban and the province of Kabul, which halted talks with the militants over the summer after it was revealed that Taliban head Mullah Mohammad Omar was more than two years deceased.
Washington assesses the damage
The Kunduz airport become a safe haven for residents and local officials when the Taliban first road through town. As the militants proceeded toward this stronghold, roughly 100 American and allied troops were sent to assist the Afghans. The turmoil occurred just as the Pentagon was in the midst of reevaluating the number of U.S. troops that should be deployed in Afghanistan. By the close of 2016, the current count of roughly 10,000 is scheduled for a drastic reduction (“U.S., NATO Signal”).
In NATO’s estimation, the Taliban lacks the capacity to launch a full-scale takeover of Afghanistan. However, the alliance does acknowledge that actions like the Kunduz capture serve as proof that, when determined and organized, the militants are capable of making small yet significant gains.
The Taliban gets full control over Afghanistan
Between Sunday the 4th and Tuesday the 6th of October, the power struggle in Kunduz tipped back and forth between Afghan forces and the Taliban. After the militants claimed total control of the city on Sunday, state troops waged what was thought to be a triumphant push back against the Taliban by Monday. The following day, however, the Taliban seized power once again, with the constantly alternating flags around the city switched back to white.
Despite Tuesday’s developments, street level accounts of the situation were contradicted by American and Afghan military officials. In Washington, Gen. John F. Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the core of Kunduz had been fully reclaimed by Afghan forces, and that the militants had essentially “melted away,” and “left the city,” (Nordland and Rahim).
Gen. Campbell’s description was echoed by the Afghan Ministry of Defense, whose operations director, Lt. Gen. Afzal Aman, even claimed that the
“enemy was pushed out of the city,” and that “the Afghan National Army [had] recaptured” Kunduz (Nordland and Rahim).
Such words were sharply contradicted by city residents and even some local military heads, who wished not to be quoted for fear of contradicting government reports.
With families continuing to flee Kunduz by the carload, the city streets have been described as a war zone. According to one head-of-household in the Bandar Khan Abad district, locals “are not even able to sneak out,” and that whenever people dare peak outside their gates, militants and Afghan forces are liable to shoot (Nordland and Rahim).
One senior Afghan officer blamed the fall of Kunduz on the suspension of U.S. airstrikes, which followed the Saturday bombing of the Doctors Without Borders hospital that left 22 dead, 37 injured, and 33 missing (Lackey). The unnamed officer also held the Afghan military responsible for the city’s collapse, stating that there “are 10 generals from different organs, and they aren’t under the command of one person who should lead the fighting,” (Nordland and Rahim). He remained skeptical that the city could be reclaimed, even if Afghan troops engage in months of counterattacks.
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Goldstein, Joseph. “Taliban rout Afghan forces, take over key northern city.” The Boston Globe. Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC. 28 Sept. 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
Stancati, Margherita and Habib Khan Totakhil. “Afghan Forces Recapture Central Kunduz From Taliban.” Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company. 1 Oct. 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
“U.S., NATO Signal Willingness to Slow Afghan Drawdown.” JP Updates. n.p. 8 Oct. 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
Nordland, Rod and Najim Rahim. “Taliban Gain Advantage in Tug of War in Kunduz.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 6 Oct. 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
Lackey, Katherine. “33 remain missing after Doctors Without Borders hospital hit in Afghanistan.” USA Today. Gannett Company. 8 Oct. 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.