Taliban militants launched an offensive Thursday to take a major provincial capital in Afghanistan, a move that if successful, would mark the biggest Taliban victory since the U.S. invasion in 2001.
The militants have wiped out checkpoints around the city and are now on the verge of taking the police headquarters and governor’s compound, a spokesman for the provincial governor told The New York Times. “The whereabouts of the police are not known, whether they have joined the Taliban or escaped somewhere,” the spokesman continued. The spokesman’s statement indicates the local police may have either been paid by the Taliban, or defected into their ranks. If the Taliban is able to capture the provincial capital, it will mark only the second time since 2001 the Taliban have been able to seize a major Afghan city.
The Taliban push is just a smaller facet of a larger Taliban offensive on two additional provincial capitals in southern and northern Afghanistan. In southern Afghanistan, the Taliban have surrounded the major city of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province. Hundreds of NATO troops died in Helmand province during the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan from 2001-2014, and it was the site of President Barack Obama’s first major foreign policy decision in 2010. Obama deployed an additional 100 troops to Lashkar Gah to reinforce Afghan forces, but the remainder of the province remains largely in Taliban hands.
[dcquiz] In northern Afghanistan, the major city of Kunduz is also being surrounded for an eventual push on the city itself. The Taliban took control of Kunduz city briefly in September, 2015, before being expelled by the Afghan security forces. The Taliban have re-infiltrated the four districts from which they launch the original Kunduz attack, and remain poised for another push to retake the city, notes The Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
The loss of three provincial capitals would be catastrophic to the U.S.-backed Afghan government, crippling its ability to administer Afghanistan. “The ANSF remain unprepared and under-resourced to conduct operations in more than one region simultaneously, despite NATO and U.S. assistance,” ISW continued in its assessment. The think tank warns that, “If Afghanistan remains on this course, global extremist organizations will reconstitute their sanctuaries in Afghanistan’s ungoverned spaces and pose enduring threats to U.S. national security.”
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