The Taliban continues to wrack up a string of major victories today. Kandahar City, the country’s second largest city, collapsed after Taliban forces besieged it for more than two months. It is the third major city and the fourth provincial capital to fall to the Taliban today.
Afghan forces abandoned the city after months of fighting. The Associated Press confirmed the city is now occupied by the Taliban.
With the loss of its capital, and the fact that all but one district is under Taliban control, FDD’s Long War Journal assesses that Kandahar Province is now Taliban controlled.
The capture of Kandahar province is a major propaganda and strategic victory for the Taliban. Kandahar is the home of the Taliban. In the 1990s, Mullah Omar, the founder and first emir of the Taliban, began his takeover of the country from the province. Omar ruled his Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 from Kandahar. Now that Kandahar is under Taliban control, additional forces can be used in Lashkar Gah, Tarin Kot, and Qalat, all three cities which may fall at any time, and elsewhere.
Kandahar has also served as a base for Al Qaeda. From 1998 to 2001, before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his cadre of followers operated a training camp and command center at Tarnak Farms near Kandahar Air Field. The U.S. military destroyed two large Al Qaeda training camps in Shorabak district in Oct. 2015. General John Campbell, then the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said that one of the camps in Shorabak was the largest in Afghanistan since the US invaded in 2001.
The Afghan government and security forces are being routed on the battlefield. The Taliban took control of four provincial capitals including Herat City, the country’s fourth largest City, Ghazni City, which is on the road to Kabul, and Qala-I-Naw in Badghis province. Herat, Ghazni, and Badghis provinces are now fully under Taliban control. In all, the Taliban now controls 11 provinces and 13 provincial capitals.
The Taliban are in control of 7 of 9 provinces in the north, all four in the west, and Ghazni and Kandahar in the south. The Taliban is continuing its push to strangle Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. Fighting in the south and east have intensified. Once the south is fully secured, the Taliban will make its push to take Kabul and achieve its singular objective: to reestablish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The battle of Kandahar City
Like Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, Kandahar has been a main focal point of Taliban’s southern offensive since President Joe Biden’s announcement of the U.S. withdrawal on April 14, 2021. In June, the Taliban began its offensives against districts in Kandahar province, slowly advancing towards the provincial capital. Kabul responded by sending its elite Commandos to prop up sagging local forces and launching airstrikes.
By July, fighters had entered the city, raiding houses and fighting Afghan soldiers in Kandahar’s Seventh Police District. The Taliban continued to press the city, forcing Afghan commandos to move prisoners from the Kandahar prison. By July 16, heavy fighting had emerged in three of the capital’s neighborhoods, as the Taliban controlled the neighboring district, Dand, which houses Kandahar’s airport. The airport remained under government control however, as the Afghan Air Force bombarded Taliban fighters with airstrikes throughout July and August, with little effect.
As a result of the Taliban progress in the city by July 16, the Afghan military imposed a curfew on the city while continuing to flood it with more Commandos. Slowly, the Taliban took more police districts in a steady march towards the center of the city. In response, the United States and Afghan air forces continued to launch airstrikes against Taliban military vehicles and equipment, to no avail.
At the beginning of August, the Taliban massed more fighters to continue their attack on Kandahar, effectively forcing the government to commit its most valuable resources and personnel to protect the strategic city. The Commandos repelled repeated Taliban offensives against the center of the city with the help of airstrikes. However, the Taliban began to turn their attention to the Kandahar airport on August 2. Taliban rocket attacks delayed flights, and inhibited Afghan Air Force strikes.
Due to the severe toll of the fighting on the city itself, the government advised all civilians to evacuate the city on August 5, following a weekend that saw nearly 100 civilian casualties. On August 11, the ANDSF defensive position around Kandahar’s prison collapsed, enabling the Taliban to liberate hundreds of prisoners. The prison was a vital defensive position in the city and signaled that the fall of the city would soon follow. At the same time, local leaders pressed Kandahar’s governor and military leaders to accept an ultimatum presented by the Taliban to abandon the city to escape further destruction. On August 12, videos emerged of ANDSF troops fleeing the city en masse, as Taliban leaders claimed control of the provincial capital.