KABUL—Afghan government defenses collapsed in key cities in northern Afghanistan on Sunday, as the Taliban seized the strategic hub of Kunduz and pushed into other provincial capitals, taking advantage of the American military withdrawal.
In addition to Kunduz, the Taliban captured the provincial capital of Sar-e-Pul and were on the verge of completing the takeover of Taloqan, the capital of nearby Takhar province. The insurgents already seized two of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals on Friday and Saturday, and Sunday were battling government forces on the outskirts of major urban centers Herat and Kandahar.
The Taliban, who swept through the country’s rural areas earlier this summer, have managed to make these dramatic gains even as the U.S. continues airstrikes in support of the Afghan government from bases in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. Those airstrikes, however, are due to end Aug. 31, in accordance with President Biden’s decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan.
The National Security Council didn’t directly address the events in Kunduz on Sunday, and a spokesman referred to Friday’s comment from White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
“We knew from the beginning—and the president would be the first to say this—that there are difficult choices a commander in chief needs to make on behalf of the American people,’’ she said.