The Afghan army has abandoned nearly 200 checkpoints in Kandahar since December. The collapse of some military bases this past fall afforded the Taliban to move in and take troves of military equipment and ammunition, including several heavy artillery pieces.

“When the trees turn green, the situation will get worse,” said Haji Mahmood Noor, the district mayor for Panjwai, referring to the spring when the Taliban can move more at ease under cover of blooming foliage.

The Taliban’s offensive pressure has put the Biden administration into a political bind. Under President Donald J. Trump’s deal with the Taliban in 2020, all foreign troops, including the remaining 2,500 American service embers who support Afghanistan military and security forces, are scheduled to withdraw by May 1, 2021, leaving the country in an especially precarious state.

If the Biden administration honors the withdrawal date, the Taliban could overwhelm what’s left of the Afghan security forces and take control of major cities like Kandahar. They then could push for a complete military victory or a broad surrender by the Afghan government through ongoing negotiations.

Taliban in Afghanistan
U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad (left), and Head of Afghan Taliban’s Political Office, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, during the signing of the peace deal, at the Sheraton Doha Hotel. Baher Amin/The Peninsula

But time is more critical now more than ever. The new administration and Congress have only a couple of months remaining to decide whether the United States will withdraw the troops by the specified date.

Congress recently imposed detailed conditions for a further reduction in troop levels in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. The act was passed on January 1, 2021.

The Taliban aim to force the Afghan government into agreeing with their terms. The Taliban leaders have also demanded the release of around 7,000 more prisoners and the establishment of an interim government. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has refused these two requests.

“The Taliban seem to believe that applying this pressure, staging their fighters to strike Kandahar and other urban centers potentially, will pressure the U.S. to withdraw, or else,” Andrew Watkins, a senior Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group said. “The strategic logic might have the opposite effect.”