The Taliban are making another run at Kunduz city in northern Afghanistan and are pulling out last year’s playbook in an effort to choke off the city. What may appear to be scattered and random attacks across northern Afghanistan throughout July and August are in fact a coordinated effort by the Taliban to surround and cut of Kunduz, an effort that was successful in the late fall of 2015.
The collapse of Kunduz throughout September and October of 2015 came as a surprise to many, as NATO commanders contended that Taliban forces were incapable of controlling and capturing major population centers. This notion meant that Taliban were not entirely an existential threat to the Kabul based government. The collapse of the strategically vital and populous city sent shockwaves throughout the region and coalition forces. After 15 harrowing days the provincial capital was recaptured by Afghan security forces and surrounding villages were slowly retaken back into the fold and sphere of influence of the central government.
The Taliban are once again making a play for another October surprise, utilizing the same strategy and tactics. The capture of Dahan-e-Ghori in Baghlan province has sounded alarm bells in Kabul that Kunduz is once again under threat. Baghlan province, located just south of Kunduz province, serves as a vital corridor; the main highway that runs through Baghlan’s capital of Pol-e-Khomri operated as the main logistical road to resupply and reinforce Afghan forces as they attempted to recapture Kunduz city during its fall in 2015.
The collapse of Dahan-e-Ghori last fall led to the temporary capture of Pol-e-Khomri and the capitulation of the entire province. Taliban forces utilized this strategic terrain to ambush Afghan reinforcements on their way to relieve Afghan forces that were surrounded at the Kunduz airport. Airstrikes by coalition forces on the outskirts of the airport bought time for Afghan reinforcements to make their way to Kunduz.
The collapse of Dahan-e- Ghori on Sunday night is once again threatening the provincial capital of Baghlan, and thus a vital resupply corridor for Afghan forces launching operations from Kabul. According to Baghlan provincial council member Mawlawi Raji ,”At least 18 Rangers belonging to the Afghan Local Police have been seized by the insurgents. Meanwhile, they took seven tanks [Humvees are commonly referred to as tanks by the Taliban and locals] belonging to security forces. I am not sure about the accuracy of this, but I urge security officials not to keep the truth secret.”
While Taliban forces have focused efforts on capturing Baghlan, they have also made a push to surround Kunduz city in an effort to choke it off — a tactic that paid dividends last fall. Surrounding districts and villages that were vital to last year’s collapse are once again under serious threat of capture. Several days ago Afghan forces managed to kill 21 Taliban, including the shadow governor for Imam Sahib district. As reported on Wednesday by Tolo News, Khan Abad and Cahardara districts are currently under siege by Taliban forces, with Khan Abad District Governor Hayatullah Amiri calling for reinforcements to be sent immediately. The Ministry of the Interior has reported that 19 insurgents, including local Taliban commander Qari Zabiullah, have been killed in the ongoing clashes.
Reports in the area have also indicated the possible presence of Taliban checkpoints on the Baghlan-Kunduz Highway, driving fears that the road may once again be used to cut off supplies and reinforcements to Kunduz should the city fall.
It appears the Taliban have dusted off last year’s playbook on the collapse of Kunduz city. Key districts such as Chahadara, Khan Abad, and Imam Sahib are under assault by Taliban forces in an effort to surround the city. At the same time, attempts are underway to capture Baghlan to cut off the main artery connecting Kabul to the embattled northern province. However, new to this fight is the presence of a newly reported Taliban special forces unit, an outfit already reportedly operating in Helmand. The capture of this new unit’s Kunduz commander, Faizullah, on Wednesday has only added to the mystery surrounding this outfit, and highlighted the importance of Kunduz to Taliban war plans.
Afghan forces must heed the warning signs that Kunduz may once again fall and organize a large scale operation to push back resurgent threats. Lacking for Afghan forces is a cohesive war strategy, something the Taliban appear to have, possibly a result of discordance within the National Unity Government.