Fourteen Years After US Invasion, Taliban Offensive Claims Major City
Afghan government pledges to retake Kunduz one day after coordinated assault by Taliban
The U.S. military launched airstrikes against targets in Kunduz, Afghanistan on Tuesday, just a day after Taliban fighters caught the U.S. Army, the Afghan National Security Forces, and local security forces off guard by staging a massive military offensive to capture the key northern city.
According to the ToloNews, a privately-run Afghan 24/7 news agency, local reports from the city "indicate that there are civilian casualties because of Afghan and foreign troops airstrikes." On Monday, a Doctors Without Borders team working in a Kunduz hospital reported numerous casualties from the initial Taliban offensive.
The Guardian reports:
Kunduz is the first provincial capital in 14 years to effectively fall to the Taliban, and is possibly the militants’ biggest victory since they were ousted from power in 2001.
By Tuesday morning, roads were blocked and some government buildings set on fire, several residents told the Associated Press.
"From this morning, the Taliban have been setting up checkpoints in and around the city, looking for the government employees," one resident said. "Yesterday it was possible for people to get out of the city, but today it is too late because all roads are under the Taliban control."
On Tuesday morning the Afghan Ministry of Defense confirmed that the Army, along with other security personnel, had commenced a ground-level counter-offensive just after 8 am local time. Speaking from Kabul, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani later gave a televised address in which he vowed to retake the city. Ghani claimed the "enemy has sustained heavy casualties" and said government forces were "retaking government buildings ... and that reinforcements, including special forces and commandos are either there or on their way there."
The Wall Street Journal reports:
According to Jason Ditz, writing at Anti-War.com, "The loss of Kunduz is a huge blow to the Afghan government, because it had never really been under control of the Taliban even when the Taliban were in power. Kunduz was the center of the Northern Alliance rebellion against the Taliban, which eventually took over the key government positions during the U.S. occupation, and holds them to this day."
And Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, argues that the fall of the city speaks to a more robust failure of the Obama administration's strategy in Afghanistan, which has allowed the war to drag on—"token" draw downs aside—with nearly no progress towards a negotiated settlement, despite nearly 14 years of continuous fighting.
"The fall of Kunduz," wrote Roggio on Monday, "would invalidate the entire U.S. 'surge' strategy from 2009 to 2012. The U.S. 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 have expended considerable effort in fighting the military and government. Today, the Taliban are gaining ground in northern, central, eastern and southern Afghanistan, with dozens of districts falling under Taliban control over the past year."
Regarding additional updates on the fighting on Tuesday, Al Jazeera correspondent Qais Azimy, reporting from Baghlan, just south of Kunduz, said government troops attempted to reenter the city but were turned back due to intense fighting.
The fall of Kunduz, reported Azimy, "sends a message to the international community and Kabul, that the Taliban fighters are now capable of taking control of a provincial capital after 14 years."