Taliban announces withdrawal from center of Kunduz city

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The Taliban released a statement on its official “Voice of Jihad” website earlier today saying that its forces had withdrawn from the center of Kunduz city in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban presents the move as being somewhat altruistic. “Withdrawal from Kunduz city bazaar and government buildings is done purely for the higher interests of Jihad, the main goal of which was to secure the population from air raids and protect the human and material cost of Mujahideen from waste in a protracted defensive battle,” the statement reads.

Of course, multiple sources say the Taliban wasn’t so concerned about civilians in Kunduz during its multi-day siege.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International accused the Taliban of committing numerous crimes in Kunduz. “As Afghan government forces continue their efforts to drive the Taliban out of the strategically important city of Kunduz, Amnesty International (AI) has released alarming testimonies by civilians citing mass murder, abductions, rape, and house-to-house searches by Taliban death squads during the Islamist group’s brief capture of the provincial capital,” Amnesty’s report reads.

Without mentioning Amnesty International by name, the Taliban rejects its findings (emphasis added):

At the same time they won over the hearts of the entire nation especially the honorable people of Kunduz with their Islamic behavior. Their Islamic and ethical conduct with the enemy prisoners was such that the flow of opposition fighters and workers surrendering and joining Mujahideen throughout the country has also increased. We strongly reject all claims of enemy and foreign malicious circles accusing the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate of transgressing against the lives, property and honor of anyone. The people of Kunduz are witnesses that the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate have treated them with respect and have not inappropriate the rights of anyone during their control.

The fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces, backed by the US, has been fierce over the past several days. It hasn’t been clear which side was in control of the city’s center until today. The battle has also been chaotic, with the US bombing a hospital where civilian doctors were working.

Despite its withdrawal, however, the Taliban still controls all of the districts surrounding Kunduz city. Indeed, the jihadists were able to make swift advances in the city itself in part because they are already firmly entrenched in the outlying areas.

While admitting that its fighters are no longer in central Kunduz, the Taliban still crows about its gains. In addition to freeing prisoners (Amnesty found male prisoners were armed for battle, while female inmates were raped and beaten), the Taliban brags about its war booty, saying the “[m]ujahideen seized and secured hundreds of various type [sic] military equipment, APCs, launchers, tons of heavy and light arms ammunition as well as archived documents from the ministry of national directorate services and other organs.”

The Taliban also lists all of the areas where its forces have purportedly made gains during its northern offensive:

Kunduz which is considered militarily strategic and a command center for the entire north east provinces of Afghanistan was attacked and taken over by Mujahideen, causing a wave of panic in the enemy ranks as a result of which large areas were completely cleared by Mujahideen with negligible casualties and small scale operations in Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar, Badakhshan and other provinces of the north. Amidst this advance, Baghlan’s Talaw Barfak district, tens of villages and military bases in Markazi Baghlan and Pul-e-Kumri districts; Takhar’s Eshkamesh, Yangi Qala and Khwaja Ghar districts; Badakhshan Warduj and Baharak districts; Faryab’s Khwaja NaMusa and Garzewan districts; Saripul’s Kohistanat district; Jawzjan’s Kham Aab district; entire districts of Imam Sahib, Qala Zaal and Chahr Dara and large parts of Khanabad and Aliabad districts all fell to the Mujahideen in a few short days while tens of vehicles, hundreds of heavy and light arms and large amounts of other equipment were also seized by the Mujahideen and subsequently transferred to secure locations. Such consecutive conquests had not been witnessed in the recent past.

Given that the Taliban has made a major push throughout all of Kunduz province, as well as throughout northern Afghanistan, the city of Kunduz will likely be threatened once again in the future.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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