Taliban fighters continue to seize territory in Afghanistan as the militant group mounts new offensives in the northern part of the war-torn country — victories that have come as the US prepares to withdraw its troops by Sept. 11.
There have been reports of intense fighting between Taliban and Afghan government forces surrounding the northern provincial capitals of Kunduz, Faryab and Balkh in recent days.
Militant forces were closing in on Kunduz on Monday and had overrun the district headquarters in Imam Sahib and taken control of the police headquarters, Inamuddin Rahmani, the provincial police spokesman, told the Associated Press.
Since the Biden administration announced in April that it would pull the remainder of US troops from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war, the Taliban has moved beyond their southern strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar and began taking control of areas like Imam Sahib, which is located near the border with Tajikistan and on a key supply route from Central Asia.
The latest offensive comes as peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan officials in Qatar have stalled and just days before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, will visit President Biden at the White House.
The talks on Friday will focus on how the US will continue to provide support for the Afghan people following the withdrawal, including offering diplomatic, humanitarian and economic assistance, the White House said.
The United Nation Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan said she pressed the Security Council to urge both sides to begin negotiations again.
“Increased conflict in Afghanistan means increased insecurity for many other countries, near and far,” Deborah Lyons said.
But while the talks are halted, the Taliban continues to advance its military presence in the north.
“The Taliban’s strategy is to make inroads and have a strong presence in the northern region of the country that long resisted the insurgent group,” a senior Afghan security official told Reuters. “They would face less resistance in other parts of the country where they have more influence and presence.”
And while the fighting has been fierce in places, the Taliban has also begun paying Afghan government forces to return home.
A senior police official told the AP that many of the police in his district come from poor families and haven’t seen their financial conditions rise despite the trillions of dollars the US spent during the 20-year war.
“They have not seen changes in their lives and are indifferent so they see no difference. … They want to save their lives just for today,” the official said.
Many observers fear that the Taliban will overrun the country once US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan — a predicament that could lead to the rise of al-Qaeda in the country again.
The US overthrew the Taliban in 2001 for allowing the terror group’s leader Osama bin Laden to use Afghanistan as a base of operations as it planned the Sept. 11 attacks.
At a Senate hearing last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were questioned about the possibility that al-Qaeda could regenerate and once again become a threat to the US.
“I would assess it as medium,” Austin said. “I would also say, senator, that it would take possibly two years for them to develop that capability.”
Milley said he agreed.
“I think that if certain other things happen — if there was a collapse of the government or the dissolution of the Afghan security forces — that risk would obviously increase, but right now I would say ‘medium’ and about two years or so,” he said.
With Post wires