A troubling sign for the U.S.-backed government of Afghanistan on Monday, as Taliban fighters captured the northern city of Kunduz, the first major Afghan city to fall to the Taliban since 2001. The provincial capital has been under attack from Taliban militants for months, so that the early morning advance was so thoroughly successful, in a matter of hours, came as a surprise to Kabul and its Western allies.
“The fall of the city marks a devastating blow to Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and its security forces, which have largely fought on their own since U.S. and allied forces mostly ended their combat role last year,” the Wall Street Journal notes. “Kunduz, one of the largest cities in northern Afghanistan, lies on a strategically and economically important trade route close to the border with Tajikistan. Control of Kunduz also carries symbolic value: The city was one of the last Taliban enclaves to fall during the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.”
The Taliban forces were reportedly heavily outnumbered, but were able to push Afghan security forces out of the stronghold, forcing them to retreat to the airport. The militants freed hundreds of prisoners, while overruning strategic targets throughout the city, as Afghan forces awaited reinforcements that didn’t arrive until late in the evening.
“The Taliban’s largest victory in years comes just over a week before the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell, is expected to return to Washington to testify before Congress about the course of the war and what America’s continued involvement should be,” according to the New York Times. “There are some 10,000 American troops in the country, many of them focused on training or advising the Afghan forces, and the White House has not yet decided whether to keep a force of that number here for another year or begin pulling them from the country in the coming months.”