Taliban takes control of Afghan provincial capitals of Kunduz, Sar-i-Pul and Taloqan

The Taliban took control of the provincial capitals of Taloqan and Kunduz and Sar-i-Pul cities, the third, fourth, and fifth capitals to fall to the Taliban over the past three days.

The Taliban continues its push to retake key cities in the north, all part of the drive to deprive Afghan leaders of their base of support and restore the group’s so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. A total collapse of the north would eventually lead to the fall of the Afghan government.

The fall of Kunduz and Sar-i-Pul came just one day after Shibirghan, the capital of Jawzjan, fell to the Taliban. Zaranj, the capital of the southwestern province of Nimroz, was taken over by the Taliban without a fight on Aug. 6.

In Kunduz City, the Taliban occupies the Governor’s office, the provincial council building, the National Directorate of Security and the police headquarters, and the city’s center square after Afghan forces retreated to the airport, which remains under government control. The Taliban also seized control of the city’s prison and freed hundreds of prisoners, some of them Taliban fighters and commanders. The Afghan military, led by the over-extended commandos who are shouldering the bulk of the fighting against the Taliban, are using the airport in an attempt to regain control of Kunduz City.

The Red Unit, the Taliban’s shock troops which are part of its so-called special forces, have been spotted inside Kunduz City. Red Unit fighters are better trained and equipped than local Taliban units, and often are at the tip of the spear of the Taliban’s major operations to seize districts and cities, or assaults on major military bases.

In Sar-i-Pul province, the Taliban took control of the eponymous capital. “Sari Pul is out of our hands,” an Afghan military official told reporter Bilal Sarwary. Taliban fighters can be seen outside the governor’s office, and in control of the NDS and police headquarters. Like in Kunduz, Afghan commandos are being dispatched to attempt to retake the city.

In Taloqan, the Taliban breached the city’s defensive lines and reached the prison, where it freed Taliban fighters and other inmates. The U.S. Air Force launched airstrikes in an attempt to break the Taliban’s advance, but failed to halt the jihadists.

“ANDSF and government officials have abandoned office of the provincial Governor, Police HQ and NDS HQ in Taloqan,” Sarwary reported. He later confirmed to FDD’s Long War Journal that Taloqan is under Taliban control.

The Taliban positioned itself to take Kunduz City, Sar-i-Pul, Shibighan, and Taloqan by executing its rural insurgency strategy, which it carefully planned more than a decade ago, and has patiently executed. 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.

When President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces on April 14, 2021, the Taliban launched its offensive and tripled the number of districts it controlled, from 73 to 223, within two months. With more than half of Afghanistan under its control and a third of the districts contested, the Taliban shifted its priority from taking districts to taking cites.

The Taliban is assaulting cities throughout the country, which is forcing the Afghan Air Force, Commandos and special forces to spread their limited resources, and in some cases on losing causes. These units have been the only forces that have been able to take the fight to the Taliban. However, their effectiveness has often been limited to defending small pockets inside or around cities. In Kandahar City and Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, Commandos are clinging to a small pocket of government buildings while the Afghan Air Force, backed by the U.S. Air Force, are launching strikes inside the city. If the Taliban overruns these pockets, the Afghan military risks losing hundreds of elite fighters who are crucial to a fight whose odds to win seem longer by the day.

Editor’s note: this article was updated to note the fall of Taloqan.

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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