The Taliban has claimed a huge symbolic victory after their fighters seized a large city for the first time in northern Afghanistan. This is as part of a seemingly unstoppable offensive in which they have captured five provincial capitals in just three days.
Armed men swept into Kunduz on Sunday, close to the border with Tajikistan and an important political and military hub. By mid-morning, they controlled the city center while pro-government forces retreated to the nearby airport. Residents fled as smoke from the city’s burning market engulfed the sky.
Videos posted by Taliban fighters showed the city’s abandoned police compound, complete with cars and its main security and intelligence buildings intact.
“The enemy left behind vehicles, weapons, and equipment,” tweeted the Taliban’s spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, promising further advances.
On Sunday, the Taliban also overwhelmed the provincial capital of Sar-e Pol and the city of Taloqan. Before communications in Taloqan were cut off, a senior local official spoke of intense street-to-street fighting.
“Taliban fighters are some 200 meters away,” the official said. “It is possible that the city will fall as the security forces could not hold the lines. No help arrived from Kabul yet.” Officials later confirmed the city had been captured by the Taliban.
A local official told over the phone that “Kunduz provincial capital fell into the hands of Taliban at around 10 am this morning. Kunduz city has been under Taliban attack for the past two months. They intensified their attacks from several directions on the city on Friday. They totally captured it today.”
Of the five provincial capitals to have fallen since Friday, the northern city of Kunduz was by far the most significant gain for the Taliban. Previously, the insurgents entered the city in 2015 and again in 2016, but were unable to hold it either time.
Kunduz was also the scene of the Taliban’s surrender in 2001 when its northern army together with foreign fighters abandoned their weapons in the wake of the US-UK-led invasion.