As we woke up here in the U.S. yesterday on a hot, lazy Sunday summer morning, reports were coming in real-time that the Taliban had captured another district capital. The city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan has fallen. This is the fourth district or provincial capital to fall in only three days. Kunduz is one of the largest cities in the country and one of the biggest gains of the Taliban so far this year.

On Friday, the southern city of Zaranj in the Nimroz province fell to the Taliban. Local government officials had been asking the central government for support, after an extended Taliban threat. The BBC reported that “Nimroz’s Deputy Governor Roh Gul Khairzad told reporters that Zaranj had fallen ‘without a fight.’ ‘The city was under threat for a while, but no one from the central government listened to us, Ms. Khairzad said.'”

Will the Afghan National Army Fight?

Gaining Momentum, the Taliban Have Captured Four Regional Capitals in Four Days
Afghan Taliban militants and villagers attend a gathering in the Alingar district of Laghman Province, Afghanistan on March 2, 2020. (Photo by Noorullah Shirzada/AFP)

As another district capital has fallen, it’s extremely clear that the Taliban are not slowing down. This summer offensive was clearly planned and coordinated in advance. On Friday, a Taliban commander told the Reuters news agency, “This is the beginning, and see how other provinces fall in our hands very soon.” This weekend, they have already made good on that promise.

The Taliban’s rapid advance fits a long and troubling pattern of events in Afghanistan: Without U.S. or Coalition support, the Afghan National Army (ANA) and other government forces too often do not stand and fight the Taliban. This has been going on for years without a solution. We continue to see government forces surrender, and now — which is even worse — also surrender American weapons and equipment to the Taliban.

The Taliban have known that without U.S. support the ANA will often surrender or retreat without much of a fight. In fact, for years, the Taliban were targeting American and NATO advisors first, over the ANA. As advisors, we had bounties on our heads for our kill our capture, adding to the incentive to take us out of the fight.

For example, two- and four-man teams of U.S. and NATO advisors could keep ANA units in the fight, even when outnumbered. But without their support, that was not the case. We can clearly see this happening now, and we should have known better. We knew this would happen, and so did the Taliban.

Afghan National Army Commando
An Afghan National Army commando stands guard in Herat province Sunday as skirmishes with the Taliban continue. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images)

An Urban Fight Will Create More Chaos

As the Taliban continue to capture more cities and district and provincial centers, the conflict will escalate. Urban fighting changes the nature and pace of the conflict and will add to more civilian casualties. There are tens or hundreds of thousands of people living in many of these contested Afghan cities. Kunduz, for example, has a population of 270,000 people.

Capturing cities, and especially district capitals, also increases the Taliban’s power and influence. This allows them to re-assert political control and establish their own de facto government. This will bolster their self-perceived legitimacy and cause people to fear them. In turn, this fear will continue to undermine the Afghan government and cause people to chose not to fight. It will likely create a domino effect whereby resistance withers and the situation spirals out of control.