The Taliban assaulted the northern provincial capital of Kunduz from three directions and seized control of areas in the city. Unconfirmed reports from residents and Taliban fighters inside Kunduz indicate that Afghan forces have been driven out of the city and the jihadist group is in full control.
According to the BBC, hundreds of Taliban fighters launched their offensive today from three districts: Imam Sahib to the north, Khanabad from the southeast, and Chardara from the southwest. All three districts are thought to be under Taliban control.
The Taliban confirmed that it launched a three-pronged assault on Kunduz city. “The operations have commenced on the city center from 3 directions with Mujahideen quickly taking enemy positions and the enemy is retreating from their positions,” according to an initial statement that was posted on Voice of Jihad.
The Taliban later stated that its fighters have “reached the main city intersection, are targeting the governors [sic] compound and clearing the small remaining pockets from enemy presence.”
Afghan security officials have denied that the Taliban is in control of the city and have stated that the fighting was largely confined to the outskirts of the provincial capital.
But reports from the Afghan media, as well as Taliban fighters and residents inside the city, indicate that parts if not all of the city are now under the jihadist group’s control.
According to TOLONews, “Taliban insurgents have taken control of Kunduz city’s provincial council building and the local High Peace Council offices.”
Ehsanullah Ehsan, a stabilization manager at the international development agency DAI who is based in Kunduz, has said that the Taliban has seized the city and Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF] have retreated.
“Kunduz city is completely with taliban ANSF are out,” Ehsan tweeted. “[T]he city is completely with taliban now, taliban walking inside streets, i am trapped at home.”
Ehsan posted photographs purportedly showing Taliban fighters walking the streets of Kunduz and prisoners who have been freed from the city’s main jail.
Kunduz province has been hotly contested since the Taliban and its allies launched an offensive to seize control of the province at the end of April. The districts of Imam Sahib, Aliabad, and Qala-i-Zal were overrun in the initial assault, while Chardara and Dasht-i-Archi fell in mid-June. Khanabad fell under Taliban control the same day that Kunduz fell. The status of the six districts is unclear, but the Taliban is still thought to be in control of Imam Sahib, Aliabad, Chardara, Khanabad, and Dasht-i-Archi.
The Taliban and allied jihadist groups based in Kunduz have been flexing their muscles in the province in recent weeks. In August, hundreds of fighters from the Taliban and the allied Islamic Jihad Union massed in the open, in daylight, to swear allegiance to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the new emir of the Taliban. Last week, the Islamic Jihad Union claimed it controlled large areas of the border with Tajikistan and a border crossing from Kunduz into the northern Afghan neighbor.
The loss of Kunduz city, if confirmed, would be a major blow to the Afghan government and military, which have struggled to maintain security after US and NATO forces have drawn down to a token presence. Kunduz city would be the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban.
Additionally, the fall of Kunduz would invalidate the entire US “surge” strategy from 2009 to 2012. The US military focused its efforts on the southern Afghan provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, claiming that these provinces were the key to breaking the Taliban. Little attention was given to other areas of Afghanistan, including the northern provinces, where the Taliban has expended considerable effort in fighting the military and government. Today, the Taliban is gaining ground in northern, central, eastern and southern Afghanistan, with dozens of districts falling under the jihadist group’s control over the past year.