Taliban Makes Major Gains, Approaches Kabul

In Afghanistan, the Taliban have made major gains over the past week. At the time of writing, on Sunday the 15th of August, the Afghan government no longer controls many of the nation’s major cities. Since August 9th, the Taliban has managed to seize over 22 provincial capitals throughout the nation. Most recently, the group took control of the cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad, leaving the current Afghan government with Kabul and little else. Estimates put the Taliban at controlling two-thirds of the nation.

The most recent city to fall to Taliban control is Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province in Afghanistan’s east. The city reportedly fell to the group without a fight. Resident Ahmad Wali told the AFP news agency, “We woke up this morning to the Taliban white flags all over the city. They entered without fighting.” One Jalalabad-based official told Reuters the governor had surrendered to the Taliban, adding that “Allowing passage to the Taliban was the only way to save civilian lives.” The other major city to fall in recent days, Mazar-i-Sharif, also saw little resistance. Security forces escaped up the highway to neighboring Uzbekistan, while local militia leaders decried the city’s loss as the result of a “conspiracy”. The fall of these cities, as well as the others captured by the Taliban in recent days, leaves President Ashraf Ghani’s government relatively isolated, despite its support from foreign nations.

The speed with which the Taliban are making gains has many shocked. For the better part of nearly 20 years, the broad policy of Western nations in Afghanistan has been to support the government, train local security forces, and provide armaments and support. This strategy, perhaps strong on paper, now appears to have failed miserably. In just over one week, the Taliban have captured 22 provincial capitals – prior to this offensive, the Taliban did not hold a single provincial capital and had not done so for five years. The collapse of Afghan government forces in many areas has seen the armaments and supplies provided by foreign governments fall into the hands of the Taliban, strengthening the group as it continues its nationwide offensive.

Despite losses, Ghani and his government have continued trying to negotiate with the Taliban. On Saturday, in his first public appearance since Taliban gains, the Afghan president delivered a speech reassuring the nation. He pledged not to give up the “achievements” of the past 20 years. “We have started consultations, inside the government with elders and political leaders, representatives from different levels of the community, as well as our international allies,” Ghani said. He promised to share these with the nation soon, but many assume a power-sharing agreement of some kind may be on the table.

One analyst, Haroun Rahimi of the American University of Afghanistan, believes Ghani is no longer in control. Rahimi told Al Jazeera, “It’s not about President Ghani anymore, it’s about making the transition as bloodlessly, as orderly, and as swiftly as possible.” In Rahimi’s eyes, all hopes for a political settlement will be lost if Kabul falls to the Taliban. At the time of writing, Reuters reports that the Taliban have begun entering Kabul, with a senior official saying the group was coming “from all sides”. However, Taliban’s leadership have released a statement urging their forces not to take the city by force, and contested the notion that they have entered the city. The leadership is urging its fighters to refrain from violence, and allow safe passage to anyone seeking to leave. The group is also urging women to head to protected areas. After nearly 20 years of war, Afghanistan may once more fall to Taliban control.