The Taliban have seized territory across three provinces in northern Afghanistan in recent days, as the government in Kabul has struggled to reinforce isolated outposts amid the insurgent offensive.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have seized territory across three provinces in northern Afghanistan in recent days, as the government in Kabul has struggled to reinforce isolated outposts amid the insurgent offensive.
More than 100 police officers in the north have surrendered to the Taliban in this latest campaign, and more than a thousand men, including some soldiers, but mostly fighters with pro-government militias, have retreated.
The Taliban’s momentum has reached even Afghanistan’s extreme northeast, which was once the mountain redoubt of the anti-Taliban resistance in the 1990s, when the Taliban governed the country.
On Monday, the insurgents overran a large district in Sar-i-Pul province, in the northwest, when a local police unit surrendered after a 10-day battle, provincial officials said. Several of the district’s civil officials, along with the garrison of 200 soldiers, then retreated to a city in a neighboring province, Salahudin Cherik Zada, a member of Sar-i-Pul’s provincial council, said.
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And a renewed Taliban push has imperiled Kunduz, the second most important city in the north, which sits near the border with Tajikistan. On Monday, the Taliban seized towns on the outskirts of the city and took control of scores of villages in a district to its southeast, a leading pro-government militia commander in Kunduz province, Mir Alam, said.
The Taliban’s advance occurred amid a retreat by local militias that are allied with the government, said local officials and militia commanders. On Tuesday, militia commanders and their fighters were blaming the government for providing them with little in the way of support or ammunition.
“During the fighting I ran out of mortar rounds — to buy one mortar round would cost me 2,000 afghanis,” or about $33, said a local militia commander, Mohammad Omar Pakhsa Paran. “Where would I get the money to buy rounds?”
The city has been under threat since April, with the Taliban forces in the area bolstered by extremists from Central Asia.
Government-security officials think the Taliban see Kunduz as a major prize: If it falls, it will be the first city they have managed to seize since their government was toppled in late 2001. In recent months, the insurgents have pushed into the city’s outskirts and seized control of neighboring districts, only to disperse before government forces managed to counterattack. Whether insurgent forces will make an all-out push for the city this time remains to be seen.
The Taliban’s latest territorial gains were preceded by a demoralizing blow to the nation’s security forces on Saturday, when nearly 110 policemen surrendered to the Taliban after their base in the northeast came under attack. The episode, which is being described as the largest surrender by Afghan forces in years, illustrates a weakness in the government’s war strategy.
In trying to hold all the territory the U.S.-led coalition turned over to Afghan forces in recent years, the military has spread itself thin across an isolated patchwork of bases that are often beyond the reach of reinforcements.
Without the benefit of U.S. air power, the military now finds that its units are often cut off and are being overrun by Taliban forces, which can total more than 100 men at a time.