Thursday, October 1, 2015

Warning Update: Taliban Northern Offensive Expands

by Saagar Enjeti

Nine districts in four Northern provinces have reportedly been contested by the Taliban over the last eight days from September 23 to October 1 in conjunction with the recent Taliban offensive to seize Kunduz city. Among these nine districts, four district centers have fallen to the Taliban in neighboring Takhar province. These attacks appear to be a united offensive Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the leader of one prominent Taliban faction and self-proclaimed leader of the Taliban following the announcement of the death of Mullah Omar. The coordinated attacks throughout northern Afghanistan indicate a high level of operational capability and sophistication. A prolonged offensive and consolidation of Taliban control in northern Afghanistan could position elements loyal to Mullah Akhatar Mansour for follow-on assaults on several provincial capitals at once and provide Taliban elements with a staging area close to Kabul.

Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) retook key elements of Kunduz city on October 1, but heavy fighting continues between ANSF and Taliban militants. The attacks throughout northern Afghanistan indicate that Taliban militants are executing a broader northern offensive in Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces. The northern offensive is supported by Taliban activity along major resupply routes to Kunduz city via Baghlan province, where militants were able to stymie nearly one thousand ANSF reinforcements bound for Kunduz. This lightning offensive is likely designed to reinforce Taliban gains in Kunduz city while the ANSF counter-offensive is underway, but it is also gaining momentum faster than the ANSF is reclaiming territory. The loss of broad swaths of strategically important territory underscores growing ANSF inability to control and hold areas without the intervention of Afghan and NATO Special Forces. 

Updated 10/2/2015 10:31am (EDT): Mullah Akhtar Mansour emphasized the “symbolic victory” of the Taliban’s capture of Kunduz in his first interview with an international media outlet as the claimed leader of the Taliban. Mansour stated that the victory should silence dissidents doubting the ability of his forces, thus conflating the capture of Kunduz with Mansour’s own legitimacy. This interview confirms that Mansour launched the northern offensive in part to demonstrate his power and suppress opposition. Ongoing leadership disputes within the Taliban likely will fuel continued offensives in Takhar and Baghlan Provinces.