On Wednesday morning, Americans woke up to find that Kunduz, a town they’ve never heard of, had been taken over by the Taliban. Afghanis, however, woke up to find that the capital city of the Baghlan province was the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since 2001. In an instant, a city the size of Pittsburgh was no longer administered by the Afghan government.
In the city of 300,000 people, a public health official reported that there have already been more than 150 reported civilian casualties, and at least 16 civilians killed. Furthermore, over 6,000 have already fled their homes. Shops are closed, the streets are empty, and the city is rocked with the constant sound of explosions and gunfire.
Afghan officials said that they were awoken by “frantic” text messages and phone calls from the soldiers who were being attacked in Kunduz on Tuesday night. The city’s airport, where a majority of its security forces are located, was temporarily breached in the attack. There were also reports that US Special Forces participated in the defense of the city. Despite valiant efforts and fighting throughout the night, the city and most of the surrounding highway system was firmly in Taliban control on Wednesday.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, Afghan government officials declared Kunduz ‘retaken,’ however eyewitness reports in the area show that there is still heavy fighting ongoing in the city. Afghan Army General Murad Ali Murad, the coalition commander in Kunduz, noted, “the clearing operation will take a while.” The Afghan troops currently fighting are working in tandem with American airstrikes and US special forces who have been training the Afghan army through NATO’s operation Enduring Freedom.
The fall of Kunduz bears an eerie similarity to the fall of Mosul to ISIS late last year. In both instances, a large regional capital was taken over by a small force in a short period of time. In both cases, the national government was structurally supported by the United States, and both the Iraqi and Afghan militaries are trained by American forces and supplied with American equipment.
While the short-term effects of the events in Kunduz may be minimal, there is a longer-term issue that the United States must deal with. How do we handle Iraqi and Afghan security? President Obama plans on drawing down the US troop total in Afghanistan from 9,800 to a meager 1,000. Events like the ones of this past week show that the nation may not quite be ready to face its extensive security challenges on its own. Kunduz may be the first of many major cities to suffer from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, but it certainly will not be the last.