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The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated dramatically over the past week, with the Taliban capturing at least nine provincial capitals. The offensives come amid the ongoing withdrawal of US and coalition forces. All foreign forces apart from a 500-troop strong contingent of Turkish troops is expected to be gone by the end of August.
Afghan government officials have confirmed that Taliban* fighters have seized the army headquarters at Kunduz airport, thus bringing to an end the militia’s campaign in the region.
Unauthenticated video footage purported to have been filmed at the airport, including footage released by the Taliban’s Telegram channel, shows fighters standing inside or near the base, and posing with trophy equipment, including a rotorless Mil Mi-24 helicopter gunship on a runway.
Additional footage shows taliban fighters collecting weapons, supposedly captured from surrendering Afghan army forces.
The Taliban took the strategic city of Kunduz, situated in northeastern Afghanistan, on 8 August. The city is one of nine urban areas seized by the militant group in less than a week’s time as numerically superior, NATO-trained forces disintegrate in the face of the Taliban advance.
© AFP 2021 / HOSHANG HASHIMI
Earlier Wednesday, an Afghan official said that “hundreds of soldiers, police and members of the resistance forces who were stationed at the airport” had surrendered to the Taliban with all their equipment.
On Tuesday evening, government officials confirmed that Puli Khumri, a key city situated along an important strategic junction linking Kabul to areas to the capital’s north and west, had also fallen to the militants, who had broken through the front lines in multiple directions after days of heavy fighting.
US intelligence officials speaking to US media have warned that “everything is moving in the wrong direction” in Afghanistan and that Kabul could fall to the Taliban within six to 12 months of the departure of US and NATO forces from the country.
Afghanistan’s neighbours have beefed up border security in response to the escalating unrest in the war-torn nation. On Tuesday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu stressed that the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation alliance must be ready to deal with the possible infiltration of terrorists from Afghanistan. Shoigu had previously indicated that Russian military intelligence had confirmed that terrorists were being transferred to Afghanistan from other conflict zones including Syria and Libya. He did not specify what if any assistance these fighters were receiving from any third country, group or force, although previously, Turkey had been accused of transferring militants from terrorist-held Idlib, Syria to Libya and even the Karabakh during last year’s flare up of fighting between local Armenian militias and Azeri forces.
US President Joe Biden reiterated Tuesday that he “does not regret” his decision to pull US forces out of Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war. At the same time, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby expressed frustration Monday over Afghan government forces’ ongoing retreat from cities notwithstanding numerous advantages, including an air force, modern weaponry, US and NATO training, and superior numbers.
* Recognised as a terrorist group in Russia.