It was a dark and deadly weekend of Taliban advances in Afghanistan. Friday ended with the announcement that the first provincial capital of Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. Before this weekend, the Taliban controlled no provincial capitals in Afghanistan since 2016. Two more provincial capital cities, including the strategically significant Kunduz, were also under Taliban control by Sunday morning. By yesterday afternoon, a fourth provincial capital fell to the Taliban. Today the total number of provincial capital cities under Taliban control reached six.
On Friday, the Taliban took the capital of Nimruz province. On Saturday, Shebergan, the capital of the northwestern province of Jowzan, fell. Early Sunday morning came Kunduz, a city of 300,000 and the gateway to Afghanistan’s mineral-rich northern provinces. Finally, by Sunday evening, the Taliban were also in control of Sar-e Pol. Aybak and Taleqan fell on Monday, both without any armed resistance. Some prominent members of Parliament in these cities even announced their shift in allegiance to the Taliban
Since May the Taliban has taken control of more than half the country’s rural districts, but the provincial capitals remained out of reach – until this weekend. In each of this weekend’s achievements, the Taliban followed similar tactics. First, the Taliban raided the local prison, where they freed Taliban prisoners and added them to the ranks of Taliban fighters. Then the militants made their push on government and official compounds and headquarters. Multiple reports suggest that in several instances, the local military put up little to no resistance. The Afghan military morale, boosted by US weapons and finance for twenty years, has plummeted in the wake of the Taliban’s advances since May.
For years the fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces was limited mainly to the Afghan countryside, but since the US withdrawal began, the Taliban have made an aggressive push on Afghan cities. At least 244,000 Afghan civilians have been displaced since May, a 300% increase compared to the same period last year. Many have fled from the countryside to the cities thinking they would be safe from Taliban advances there. Events since Friday are proving that hope was misplaced.
A report from the United Nations warned that the new focus of fighting on Afghan cities and population centers meant civilian casualties would escalate. Another report from the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction last month said the Taliban advances pose an existential crisis to the country. An editorial from a representative of Doctors without Borders in Afghanistan suggests the uptick of violence and deaths among civilians is already occurring.
Earlier in the week, Taliban assassins shot and killed the director of Afghanistan’s media and information center while a suicide bomber hit the home of the country’s defense minister.
The Afghanistan Human Rights Commission chairperson told the United Nations last week, “Women in particular dread what is to come.”
The US issued a statement condemning the Taliban acts, which violate the May peace agreements. That condemnation carried little weight as the US in its final weeks of complete withdrawal, and some would say abandonment, in Afghanistan. The sudden onset of US withdrawals from the country triggered the surge in Taliban activity this summer.
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Violence has raged under cover of Taliban advances for the last two weeks in major cities across the country. In Helmand province, the previous stronghold of US operations, four television stations, and 11 radio stations stopped broadcasting. Kandahar, the nation’s second-largest city has been under siege for the last month.
As the Taliban have advanced on newly conquered territories and cities, reports emerged of individuals previously loyal to the Afghan government and assisting US forces being massacred. The US and Britain have both accused the Taliban of massacring civilians on the Pakistan border. The US has begun evacuating thousands of interpreters who assisted the US operations in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.
Before this weekend, civilian deaths in Afghanistan were already up 41% compared to 2020.