Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Taliban Topples Kunduz: What That Means for Afghanistan's Security

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Taliban Topples Kunduz: What That Means for Afghanistan's Security

Article excerpt

The Taliban's successful campaign to seize control of a major city in the far north of Afghanistan is a strong symbol of the shortcomings of the country's security forces. But it is also a warning sign that, in the long run, could prove an important teachable moment for Afghan forces and the American troops who train them, say top former military officers who served in the country.

United States-trained Afghan troops are now engaged in a closely- watched urban battle to try to retake Kunduz, the nation's sixth- largest city and capital of Kunduz Province.

After trying to topple the city on a number of occasions, the Taliban succeeded Monday. Hundreds of prisoners escaped from the local prison, and hundreds of thousands of civilians locked themselves in their homes in anticipation of tough street-to-street fighting.

Monday marked the first time since the US military entered Afghanistan after 9/11 that a provincial capital has fallen to the Taliban. That "has huge symbolic importance, and that's why there's a huge amount of attention on it," says retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded US forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.

"The actual significance of it is another question," he adds.

For starters, it does suggest that the ability of Afghan National Security Forces to defend key regions of the country is in question, Mr. Barno notes. "It's not a good sign from my point of view in terms of the strength of the ANSF."

Taliban strength in the north has grown as the US and Germany have ramped down forces during the past two years, says Barno, now a distinguished practitioner in residence at American University's School of International Service in Washington.

"Now [the Taliban] only have to deal with Afghan forces," he notes.

But that fact could prove instructive for US forces, he and other analysts add.

"It reveals that the Taliban is stronger than we thought in some ways, but it does so at a time when we still have the flexibility to adapt our presence in the region," says Paul Scharre, a former special operations reconnaissance team leader in the 3rd Ranger Battalion, with multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The question is whether that's advisable, he adds. …

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