The fall of Afghanistan's northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban is making headlines—the first major city to be taken by the insurgents since the US invasion of 2001, and well outside their traditional stronghold in the country's south. A pitched battle to retake the city is now raging, and the US has launched air-strikes, causing God knows what carnage among the civilian inhabitants. But while the world media have been paying little attention, this didn't come out of nowhere. Kunduz city had been under siege for a month, and the Taliban have taken control of nearly all of Kunduz province, as well as much of the neighboring province of Takhar. This resurgence comes as the Taliban have broken off talks with the government under the new more hardline leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour. On the same day as the fall of Kunduiz, a suicide blast amid spectators at a volleyball match in Paktika province left nine dead and many more wounded. And hundreds of fighters claiming loyalty to ISIS attacked military checkpoints in Nangarhar province, in a coordinated assault that has left at least two soliders dead (probably many more).
The fall of Kunduz also comes as US officials debate what kind of military presence to leave in Afghanistan following the impending "withdrawal." Gen. John Campbell, top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is due to testify before a Senate committee on the situation next week. Campbell has sent five different proposals to the Pentagon and NATO officials on what to do with the roughly 10,000 US troops currently in the country, most of whom are supposedly there to train and assist Afghan security forces. The recommendations range from keeping US forces at their current level or sticking to the plan to cut them back to a small force by the end of next year. The taking of Kunduz is of course providing propaganda ammo to opponents of "withdrawal." "President Obama's calendar-based drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan despite conditions on the ground has created an opening for the Taliban and placed at risk the hard-earned gains of the past decade," Sen. John McCain said in a statement. "The Taliban's capture of the key city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan is the latest manifestation of this dangerous reversal." (BBC News, BBC News, Fox News, Khaama Press, NYT, CNN, Long War Journal)
The Taliban's new hardline stance is doubtless motivated in large part by the fear that ISIS is stealing their fire. Last month, in their inimitable style, ISIS released an atrocity porn video showing villagers in Nangarhar province being forced to kneel over explosives which were then detonated, blowing them to bits. Their crime was apparently being Taliban supporters. "A horrific video was released yesterday showing kidnappers who associate themselves with Daesh [ISIS] brutally martyring several white-bearded tribal elders and villagers with explosives," said a statement on the Taliban website. (The Guardian, Aug. 11)
You know you're in trouble when the Taliban are the moderates. And so much for the nonsense about how Obama "ended the war" in Afghanistan and Iraq. Such constructions, all too common when he announced the supposed "withdrawal," are an exercise in imperial narcissism—the notion that it's all about "us."