On Sunday, the Taliban seized control of Kunduz, a provincial capital and the fifth-largest city in Afghanistan, marking a significant blow to the Afghan government weeks before the final withdrawal deadline of most U.S. troops on September 11.
On Sunday, the Islamist militant group captured two other provincial capitals, Sar-i-Pul and Taliqa, as commanders time their assault on Afghani troops to coincide with the U.S. exit. Since their revived military offensive began in May, much of the fighting has taken place in rural skirmishes. But with the takeover of Kunduz and recent fighting in the country’s second and third most populous cities, Kandahar and Herat, urban combat has become more frequent. According to CNN, at least 11 civilians were killed in the siege of Kunduz, which began in late June.
As the insurgency gains momentum, Kabul is experiencing attacks as well: In the last week, Afghan government officials announced the deaths of the director of the Afghan government’s media and information center and a district governor, who were both killed in the nation’s capital and largest city. Reuters also reports that “scores of social activists, journalists, bureaucrats, judges and public figures fighting to sustain a liberal Islamic administration have been assassinated by Taliban fighters in a bid to silence voices of dissent in the war-torn country.” In response, U.S. forces have escalated air strikes on the Taliban, which may now control over half of Afghanistan’s roughly 400 districts, according to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley. This weekend, the U.S. embassy urged all American citizens in Afghanistan to depart “immediately using available commercial flight options.”
As General Milley warns of the potential of a “complete Taliban takeover,” President Joe Biden is committed to withdrawal by the deadline, which was extended from a May 1 timeframe negotiated in 2020 by the Taliban and the Trump administration. “We’re on track to meet that target,” Biden said last month, of the September exit.