Newspaper article International New York Times

Afghan City Fearful of a Taliban Return ; with Nation's Forces Overstretched, Residents of Kunduz Are Anxious

Newspaper article International New York Times

Afghan City Fearful of a Taliban Return ; with Nation's Forces Overstretched, Residents of Kunduz Are Anxious

Article excerpt

Four months after the Taliban's two-week takeover of Kunduz, Afghan forces remain overstretched, and residents worry that the return of the insurgents is inevitable.

Farhad Azyanfar, a student of Dari literature at the university in Kunduz, watched in fear as a few hundred Taliban fighters overran and defeated a larger but demoralized government force to capture this northern city in September.

He was relieved several weeks later when the insurgents left the city after a combined American and Afghan counterattack, but the feeling was short-lived: He and many other residents fear the Taliban will be back soon.

"You can see the white flags of the Taliban along the road as soon as you step out of Kunduz City," said Mr. Azyanfar, 20, who travels back to his district outside the provincial capital several times a week. The area controlled by the government extends "only to the buildings in which they are based," he said. "As soon as you step outside, it is totally a different picture: The Taliban's presence and influence are much larger than the government's."

It has been more than four months since the Afghan forces crumbled as Taliban fighters overran Kunduz. But there has been no improvement in the conditions that made the two-week Taliban takeover of the city possible. Disillusionment with the government has only gotten worse; the Afghan forces are still overstretched and demoralized; and the Taliban still control much of the outlying areas and roads.

Now, the worry in and around Kunduz is that it is inevitable that the insurgents will return, strengthened this time by weapons, ammunition and vehicles looted during their capture of the city.

For a national government already strained by territory losses and infighting, another loss of a provincial capital -- whether that is a repeat in Kunduz or a new setback in Helmand or another contested province -- is an alarming prospect.

The initial loss of Kunduz was a national trauma. Many Afghans began fleeing neighboring provincial capitals and district centers. An already huge wave of emigration accelerated after the assault. And, worrisomely in a country torn by warring strongmen in the '90s, local warlords were threatening to remobilize and settle scores in the absence of a capable government defense.

The repercussions of Kunduz's fall were felt all the way to Washington, where President Obama abandoned his goal of ending America's involvement in the Afghan war this year and instead extended the United States military mission beyond 2016.

Around Kunduz, accounts by residents and officials make it clear that the city is still suffering under the Taliban threat.

Insurgent fighters regularly stage attacks on government checkpoints in the area and are sometimes bold enough to set up daytime roadblocks just a few miles outside the city center. …

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