Ghani’s Brussels Trip Overshadowed as Taliban Capture Kunduz Again

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Ghani’s Brussels Trip Overshadowed as Taliban Capture Kunduz Again

The Taliban have launched yet another major assault on Kunduz.

On Monday, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani left Kabul to attend the Brussels Summit on Afghanistan, slated to start on October 4. During the two day conference, the Afghan delegation will make its case to the international community for continued financial assistance as it combats a growing Taliban insurgency.

Following Ghani’s departure, conflicting news reports have reported the collapse of Nawa district in southern Helmand province, a strategic district located a stone’s throw away from the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Reports emanating from the embattled district claim Nawa’s police chief, Ahmadshah Salem, was killed in the fighting, along with Taliban commander Mawlawi Shir Mohammad and 45 other Taliban fighters. Nawa has been under threat over the last couple of months, with the district temporarily collapsing to Taliban militants in August.

Taliban militants also launched coordinated attacks on Kunduz city, with local residents reporting that the resurgent militant group had entered areas on the outskirts of the provincial capital. Government officials claim that the Taliban have been pushed back from the city after a series of Afghan air strikes, though residents are stating that several key roads entering into Ali Abad district and the Takhar and Baghlan highways have been closed by the militants.

According to Tolo News, the Resolute Support mission stated that U.S. enablers and airpower are on station to support the Kunduz situation if needed; however, at this time they do not see evidence to support that the city is under significant attack.

Media outlets are continuing to report on the fragile situation in Kunduz, and some updates appear to indicate that the city center has once again collapsed to the Taliban. The collapse of the city center is a major setback for Ghani’s administration and marks the second time the city has fallen to the Taliban in the past two years.

Moreover, a bicycle bomb exploded in Kabul police district 10, killing one and wounding two on Monday morning.

The uptick in violence comes as Ghani seeks to allay the concerns of foreign donors assisting the war torn region as it rebuilds from decades of conflict.

Prior to the conference, the British government announced it would continue to support the reconstruction of Afghanistan through 2020 with $1 billion in aid. Ghani thanked British Prime Minister Teresa May for the contribution, saying “this contribution is a testimony of the strong partnership of the two nations and a clear vote of confidence to the reform agenda of the government of Afghanistan.”

However, U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson reiterated that financial aid to Afghanistan was not a blank check and that it would be dependent on the implementation of reforms. “We expect strong pledges of renewed support to be announced next week, collectively totaling over $3 billion a year in development support through 2020,” he said.

The 2016 fighting season has seen major assaults by Taliban forces on major population centers; however, General Nicholson, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the Resolute Support Mission, claimed in a Pentagon press briefing in September that Taliban forces were unlikely to make gains on major cities. “I think what we’ve seen is the Commandos in some cases are sent without U.S. support to stabilize the situation,” he said, referring to the ability of Afghan forces to protect their own provincial capitals.

The overreliance on the 11,000-strong commando force highlights a serious vulnerability for Afghan forces. Overworked and overstretched, the elite unit may collapse under the strenuous operation tempo and rising casualty rates.