Fifth northern Afghan capital falls to the Taliban

The Taliban took control of another capital in the strategic Afghan north today as Afghan security forces and government officials fled Aybak in Samangan province. Aybak is the fifth northern capital to fall to the Taliban in three days, and the sixth in four days.

The Taliban is making sweeping gains in the north, where prominent Afghan politicians, officials and power brokers who make up the backbone of the Afghan government and security forces are based. On Aug. 8, the Taliban overran the capitals of Kunduz, Sar-i-Pul, and Takhar (Taloqan). On Aug. 7, the Taliban seized control of Shibirghan, the capital of Jawzjan province. On Aug. 6, Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province, was the first provincial center to wilt under Taliban control.

The latest, the fall of Aybak, was confirmed by Samangan’s deputy governor, who told AFP on Monday that the Taliban “are in full control” of the city. Afghan security forces and government officials abandoned Aybak “without a fight” as the Taliban advanced on the city, Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary reported.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that the governor’s office, the police and National Directorate of Security headquarters “were cleared” of Afghan forces and “were completely under the control of the mujahideen.”

The Taliban positioned itself to assault these six northern provinces by patiently executing its rural insurgency strategy, which it carefully planned more than a decade ago. While the U.S., NATO, and Afghan security forces focused on protecting urban populations, the Taliban built its strength in the rural areas, took control of remote districts, and used those bases to spread its influence. U.S. generals dismissed the Taliban’s rural insurgency, to their own detriment.

As the Taliban advances, the Afghan government has attempted to defend all of the country, and in doing so have over extended the security forces – as the regular army, police, and militias have been largely ineffective in holding off the Taliban. Many districts and several provincial capitals have been abandoned without a fight. Thousands of Afghan soldiers and policemen have surrendered to the Taliban.

The military has over-relied on the the Afghan Air Force, Commandos and special forces to stave off the Taliban. These elite Afghan forces, which are limited in numbers, are being ground down. In the case of the Commandos, they are being thrown into the fight in cities such as Lashkar Gah in Helmand and Kandahar City, where government control is limited to neighborhoods and city blocks. Also, the Afghan Air Force is expending air frames and munitions launching strikes inside these southern cities, which likely will fall as they are isolated and the Taliban is determined to take them.

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

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