Kunduz City, a strategic and symbolic prize, was largely in control of the insurgents on Sunday with just the airport remaining in government hands. The Taliban flag was raised in the city centre amid chaotic scenes of burning buildings and cars, and people trying to flee.
The offensive by the Islamist group, launched after the withdrawal of US-led forces, saw them take control of Sheberghan in Jawzjan province, the stronghold of the Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, after an assault following a siege on Saturday.
The previous day Zaranj, in the south-western province of Nimroz, was handed over to them by local officials who said they had no other choice but to do so after the government failed to send a relief force.
Kunduz, however, is the most important gain made so far by the Taliban, with routes to Kabul, other major cities and also Tajikistan – the border with which is already controlled by the Islamists.
It was also a stronghold of the Northern Alliance, the traditional adversaries of the Taliban who seized the city in 2016, but could not hold it.
Amruddin Wali, a member of the Kunduz provincial council, reported: “There is fighting going on in different parts of the city, the security forces are at the airport, but the Taliban have control of most of the place now.”
Mohammed Agha Abdullah, who left the city with his family on Saturday, said: “The people left behind are terrified. The Taliban have a special view of Kunduz because of Northern Alliance connections, and expect there’ll be harsh treatment. I don’t think we’ll be able to go back to our homes.”
Fighting continues, meanwhile, in three other provincial capitals the Taliban are attempting to capture – Kandahar, Herat and Lashkar Gah, with territory changing hands in all three cities.
The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan comes as a former British military commander warned that the UK and Western allies were making a “strategic mistake” in withdrawing from the country, which he said could once again become a base for international terrorists.
Speaking to the BBC, General Sir Richard Barrons said the withdrawal suggested the UK no longer had the “stomach to see these things through” and described the decision as a “very poor strategic outcome”.
He said: “We will run the risk of terrorist entities re-establishing in Afghanistan to bring harm in Europe and elsewhere.”
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, also condemned the “shabby withdrawal” which he said was “abandoning the country to the very insurgency that drew us there in the first place”.
He said: “Unless we wake up to the reality of what is taking place, Afghanistan might once again become a terror state. This, remember, is the country that brought us 9/11.”
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