The important city of Kunduz, in Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban yesterday, the culmination of a lengthy Taliban offensive in Kunduz Province that stretches all the way back to the spring but that had seemed to be petering out over the summer in the face of a government counter-offensive (one that now appears to have been more hype than substance). The Taliban’s interest in Kunduz goes back much longer than that, seeing as how it was the Taliban’s last stronghold in northern Afghanistan before it was taken from them by the Northern Alliance on November 26, 2001. If the Taliban were going to regain a foothold in the north, it was going to be at Kunduz, and they’ve never really stopped trying to retake the city.
CNN helpfully put together a piece called “Why the Taliban takeover of Kunduz is a big deal,” but let me save you the trouble: the Taliban takeover of Kunduz is a big deal because it’s the freaking Taliban taking over an entire major Afghan freaking city in the year two thousand and freaking fifteen. It shows that the Afghan army still isn’t ready for prime time at a time when the 10,000 American service personnel remaining there were looking for the exit, and it’s a major crisis for an Afghan government that isn’t exactly on firm footing yet. And, yes, CNN does point out that such a big Taliban victory may put an end to talk of defections and splintering following the confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death and the succession of Akhtar Mansur in July. Though given how opaque the inner workings of the Taliban’s upper echelons are, I don’t think that’s a given.
The Afghan military quickly reacted to the defeat and was fighting, under US air cover, to retake the city for much of the day today. It’s pretty critical that the Taliban not be allowed to consolidate control over the city and begin to set up operations there, but at the same time is there any reason to think that the same military that gave the city up to the Taliban can suddenly retake it from them in the space of a couple of days? The reports coming out of Afghanistan said that the government counter-attack was bogged down under heavy Taliban fire, while the Taliban were continuing to advance on the city’s airport, where its remaining defenders were holed up after fleeing the city center yesterday. Even if the Afghan army is able to retake the city in short order, the fact that they lost it in the first place, and won’t retake it without considerable US air support, is pretty freaking troubling.
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