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Afghanistan: Ground conflict intensifies

September 28, 2015

Summary: ground conflict flaring up in the north and east initiated by Taliban and “ISIS” groups.  Some reports suggest part of Kunduz now in Taliban hands

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Kunduz – officials fleeing to the airport…

Update, 28 September: BBC and others are reporting part of Kunduz has fallen into Taliban hands:

BBC, 28 September 2015: Hundreds of Taliban fighters have stormed the strategic northern Afghan city of Kunduz, seizing control of half of it, police say.

Militants have occupied some government buildings, including a prison, and heavy fighting is continuing.

One report said the Taliban had raised their flag in the city centre.

The government said at least 25 militants and two Afghan policemen had been killed and that reinforcements had been sent to the city.

Monday’s attack appears to be one of the most significant mounted on a provincial capital by the Taliban, correspondents say.

Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Husaini told the BBC’s Mahfouz Zubaide that militants had captured the jail in Kunduz and freed about 500 prisoners, including members of the Taliban.

The Taliban, for their part, are reporting their fighters are in the city centre:

Kunduz Update: Mujahideen reach the main square

The attacks launched on Kunduz city by Mujahideen early this morning are said to be still ongoing at the moment.

Officials reporting from the city say that Mujahideen have so far overrun a police station, 4 check posts; from direction of Kabul Bandar Zakhel village,  Se Darak area, 200 bed hospital, Amrullah Omar Khel compound and Bagh Zara’at area; from Imam Sahib Bandar directon Sheikh Zahir village, Zar Kharid area and 2 check posts.

So far 15 police are confirmed killed, dozens wounded, Commander Bashir detained, 7 vehicles, 2 motorbikes, 3 RPGs, 3 PKMS, 13 AK rifles and a sizable amount of other equipment seized.

Mujahideen have currently reached the main city intersection, are targeting the governors compound and clearing the small remaining pockets from enemy presence.

More details about the operation will be updated as information arrives.

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There is a lot of activity going on in Afghanistan, most of it unhelpful.  It seems as if fighting has increased in the north and east of the country.  Reports suggest that the Taliban are making renewed and sustained efforts to pressurise and ultimately seize the north-eastern city of Kunduz.  Earlier this year, Kunduz was making the headlines for similar reasons.

Voice of America, 28 September 2015: Taliban militants have launched an assault from several directions on the strategic northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz.

Police say government forces are fighting the insurgents in at least three Kunduz locations. A police spokesman said “heavy fighting is ongoing in Khanabad, Chardara and at Imam Saheb, the main entrances to the city.”

The coordinated attacks began early Monday.

Insurgents have been involved in intense fighting in the once tranquil province of Kunduz since April.

On top of this, reports that large-scale attacks by ISIS have been made in the eastern province of Nangarhar against police outposts.

The fall of a significant city would be very bad for the government and a significant morale boost for the Taliban who are struggling with unity issues after the death of Mullah Omar in July.  But information (the battle progress, casualties, objectives on both side) is sketchy – a fairly constant problem in the conflict in Afganistan, particularly now that ISAF has pulled out.

Sunday in eastern Afghanistan, authorities said hundreds of Islamic State militants staged a coordinated pre-dawn attack against key security outposts in Nangarhar province. Afghan forces have forced the extremists to retreat.

Officials said it was the first major attack by Islamic State militants against Afghan forces, coming after months of reports that the extremist group is becoming more and more powerful in Afghanistan.

We should be careful about the use of the term “ISIS” but it is very possible – indeed likely – that some former Taliban and HIG groups are rebadging themselves in part as a reaction to internal Taliban problems and also due to the high profile and rise of ISIS – this is the group to be seen to be in.

IBN Live, 27 September 2015: The attacks in Achin were confirmed by the border police commander in eastern Afghanistan, Mohammad Ayoub Hussainkhail. They came a day after a UN report warned that IS was making inroads in Afghanistan, winning over a growing number of sympathisers and recruiting followers in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.

Afghan security forces told UN sanctions monitors that about 10 per cent of the Taliban insurgency are IS sympathisers, according to the report by the UN’s al-Qaeda monitoring team.

The jihadist group has been trying to establish itself in Afghanistan and challenging the Taliban on their own turf.

Some Taliban insurgents, particularly in the restive eastern provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar, have adopted the IS flag to rebrand themselves as a more lethal force as NATO combat troops depart after 14 years of war.

Vice President, Dr Abduallh Abdullah has recently acknowledged government problems in meeting the popular expectations for progress:

Voice of America, 27 September 2015: He admitted that the National Unity Government has not clearly communicated to the Afghan people about what he called “harsh realities” — the challenges they face from poverty and the threat from Islamic terrorists.

Attacks from the Taliban have grown and Islamic State is starting to take advantage of the leadership dispute among the Taliban.

But Abdullah said the government has so far achieved mixed success. Despite a contested presidential election that put the country in political limbo for months last year, Abdullah said the Afghan people have a revived confidence in the political process and the government.

Both sides – government and insurgents – still have problems but both are still in the fight.  This is stalemate and nothing on the horizon resembling either constructive talks or something to tip the balance.  Small wonder why Afghans are still leaving the country in droves:

Al Jazeera, 16 September 2015: Afghanistan’s passport department has been inundated with applicants.

According to the passport agency’s employees, they are now issuing an average of 2,000 passports a day, a threefold increase from six months ago. Unofficial reports from one border crossing in Nimruz province claim that over 8,000 Afghans cross into Iran on a daily basis. The total number may be much higher, given Afghanistan’s porous borders and multiple crossing points.

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