War & Peace

Taleban Closing in on the City: The next round of the tug-of-war over Kunduz

The ToloNews picture illustrated an 8 June story about Afghan security forces having cleared Kunduz' Dasht-e Archi district of insurgents before the elections. Just two weeks ago, the district, along with others, fell nearly completely under Taleban control again. The ANSF have claimed that they won the area back, but local sources say otherwise, reports AAN guest author Lola Cecchinel.

The ToloNews picture illustrated an 8 June story about Afghan security forces having cleared Kunduz' Dasht-e Archi district of insurgents before the elections. Just two weeks ago, the district, along with others, fell nearly completely under Taleban control again. The ANSF have claimed that they won the area back, but local sources say otherwise, reports AAN guest author Lola Cecchinel.

Within the past two months, the Taleban have managed to secure additional territory around the provincial capital of Kunduz and have been closing in on the city itself. They also gained nearly full control over several districts of the province. On 12 August and then again around 22 August, the ANSF conducted operations. Authorities claimed they were successful in the most contested areas. However, ANSF cleaning operations have regularly proven unsustainable in the province. AAN guest author Lola Cecchinel summarises what has been happening in Kunduz over the past months and provides district case studies describing the recent spikes of violence in detail. She also analyses the main factors behind the Taleban territorial gains: the acquisition of additional weapons, heightened tensions between actors involved in the elections, the weakness of the anti-Taleban front, particularly the Afghan Local Police (ALP) – and increasing support from the local population.  (Input by Christine Roehrs)

The security situation in Kunduz dramatically worsened after the first round of the presidential elections. Until two weeks ago, when the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) again started large-scale operations to clear insurgents from all over the province, the traditionally contested districts Chahrdara and Dasht-e Archi almost completely fell under Taleban control, while the situation in Imam Sahib and Aliabad districts worsened significantly. The deterioration of security also affected the turnout in the election’s second round – it was significantly lower, with an 11 per cent decrease.

Two main factors contribute to the success of the Taleban summer offensive in Kunduz. First, the arrival of insurgents from Waziristan to the most contested districts (Chahrdara and Dasht-e Archi) as a result of the June/July Pakistani military offensive codenamed Zarb-e Azb. This, as several independent sources on the community and security levels confirmed, brought a substantial level of additional military punch to the local Taleban. There are no reliable figures as of yet about how many fighters moved to Kunduz; it can safely be assumed, though, that they brought in weapons and money. It is contested, though, whether the foreigners are really involved in the fighting: such claims by Afghan officials have been rejected from among the local population (see for example here) whereas other sources still insist on it.

Secondly, the insurgents have indirectly benefited from the presidential elections crisis and rising polarisation among groups supporting the two presidential candidates, something that also Defense Minister Bismillah Khan claimed (see here). In a province where all of the country’s ethnic groups are present and major political factions hold ground at the expense of others, insurgents have an easy game taking advantage of tensions that are constantly being fuelled by feelings of being marginalised. The insurgents are depicting the government, and particularly militias linked to government officials, as corrupt, inefficient and predatory, and this is falling on fertile ground among the population.

Blurring the lines of conflict further, rumours have spread about government officials supplying the Taleban with ammunition and food in attempts, for example, to stir tensions between certain groups and gain leverage for future negotiations over positions in the next government. One of the stories currently discussed in Kunduz says that provincial governor Ghulam Sakhi Baghlani had sent three trucks with ammunition to Taleban; they were stopped on the road to Hazrat Sultan by some of the men of Mir Alam, one of the most powerful men and militia bosses of Kunduz (1). His men allegedly kept the ammunition. After the incident, Mir Alam stormed into Baghlani’s office to confront him, which almost escalated into a fight between their bodyguards. The manager of his office however denied on the phone that Mir Alam punched the governor. Another story spread states that the mayor of Kunduz, Najibullah Amarkhail, has supplied food to the Taleban in Kanam, Hazrat Sultan and other villages close to Kunduz city. These areas are known to be in control of Mir Alam’s commanders, strong Jamiat-e Islami affiliates. The mayor, as well as the provincial governor, are both fierce opponents of Mir Alam.

What the elections have to do with it

As per the initial results announced by the IEC and before the currently ongoing recount, Ashraf Ghani led the second round in Kunduz province with 110,742 votes (with a plus of 29,849 votes compared to the first round) while Abdullah Abdullah had 81,375 votes (minus 19,038 votes). It appears that ethnic factors (2) have played out more determinately in the second round than in the first round in Kunduz. The polarisation of voting patterns is consistent with the province’s ethnic fault lines: in districts with a majority of Pashtuns or a large minority of Pashtuns (six out of seven in Kunduz province; counting Kunduz city as a separate entity), the majority of votes went to the Pashtun contender Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, except in Aliabad (as per Afghanistan Election Data); this district, with its significant population of Tajiks, Aimaq and Hazaras, has voted in majority for Abdullah. The districts with a majority or largest minority of Uzbeks and Turkmens (Imam Sahib and Qala-e Zal) also mostly supported Ghani, due to Uzbek leader Dostum being part of the Ghani ticket.

However, in a province where the influence of the Jamiat network – that also candidate Abdullah belongs to – is among the strongest in the north, notably due to the presence of powerbrokers such as Mir Alam and a myriad of sub-commanders across the province, the results of the second round showing Ashraf Ghani in the lead have been heavily contested by Abdullah’s supporters. Interviewed by the author in late June, Mir Alam said he was in an “emergency mode”, ready to mobilise his network of commanders and militias if he should be called upon by Abdullah to “reject the results of the elections.”

Since then, the security has continued to deteriorate in all of Kunduz’ provinces. With local power brokers distracted by electoral power plays and the population frustrated by the political deadlock, the Taleban launched intense, continuous offensives not only in their main districts of influence, Chahrdara and Dasht-e Archi, but also in areas where their presence was until then relatively marginal: in Imam Sahib, Aliabad and the surroundings of Kunduz city. Their strategy was to capture ALP checkpoints so as to get closer to the district centres and increase the pressure on them. In the case of Dasht-e Archi they almost managed to take the district centre.

Different interpretations of victory

The latest counter-offensive by the ANSF started in the week before last. A civilian source reported that the situation was tense again since Thursday, 21 August, in the afternoon when the fighting intensified. The ANA was launching missiles and firing heavy artillery from the Khak Kani area, a cliff facing Chahrdara, and from the airport hills. The fighting was concentrated on the Qaria Yatim area five kilometres to the west of Kunduz city. For two days it seemed as if the Taleban would keep the areas recently taken.

However, on 24 August, officials issued a statement announcing ‘victory’ in the districts of Chahrdara and Khanabad, albeit with contradicting details regarding how many of the districts had been retaken and where the Taleban currently are: Sarwar Hussaini, spokesman for the Kunduz police chief, reported that the Taleban had been “driven to the remote areas of the districts.” Ministry of Interior (MoI) spokesman Sediq Sediqqi on the other hand claimed that “Khanabad, Chahrdara and Dasht-e-Archi districts” were “clear of insurgents.” The claim that the “residents of Chahrdara and Khanabad districts of the province” had started “uprisings” against the Taleban, helping the ANSF take control of the province, could not be verified with local sources. (The term “uprising“ might cover activities of local militias outside the official governmental framework that sometimes are linked to officials. According to the head of the provincial council, more than 3,000 “illegal gunmen” were operating in the province in early August, see here.)

Latest reports from local journalists also contradict some of the government’s statements. An Al Jazeera report from 29 August quotes an Afghan intelligence officer saying that “the Taliban are five kilometres away from the provincial centre and one kilometre from district centre. The operation in Chardara was just to try and save the city and the district centre from falling to the Taliban – to push them back and try to open a base so that neither the district nor Kunduz city can be taken.” The official also said that getting the whole district back was impossible, “we would need a lot more support.”

AAN sources also confirm that while strategically important Qaria Yatim village in Chahrdara is indeed back in the hands of the ANSF, the districts of Aliabad and Imam Sahib “are unchanged.” In Dasht-e Archi, too, local sources of this author still report a strong Taleban presence. For now, the security forces, reinforced by troops from Balkh province, reportedly remain in the areas they have retaken, but for how long they can do so is not clear. Remaining in the area might be advisable, though, as quick-impact operations in which the ANSF hit Taleban hideouts and withdraw soon after have regularly proved unsuccessful in uprooting insurgents in the past. The Taleban often retreated for the time of the operations and came back later to keep hammering the weakest links in the ANSF structure, the ALP (see an earlier AAN analysis here).

ALP members afraid to be out of a job soon

The ALP has been the main target of the insurgents since its establishment in 2011 in Kunduz. While it constitutes the last frontline against the Taleban in most of the districts of Kunduz, the force is ill-equipped, regularly outnumbered and of varying degrees of loyalty towards the government. The morale of the ALP is currently at a low point as well. Local police men claim there are delays in receiving their salaries (they are paid by the US, but through the MoI) and that they feel abandoned by the government. This has increased the frustration of those who are battling at the frontlines against the insurgency. An ALP member salary (about 9,200 Afghani per month – less than 200 Dollars) “does not even cover for three meals a day and the wood to warm up in winter,” ALP members say. Many of them use this argument to justify collecting ‘taxes’ from the local population (see also here). The ALP is equipped with light weapons, but often falls short of ammunition, communication devices and material to rebuild damaged checkposts. In addition, the author found in interviews that there are anxieties among ALP members in Kunduz about how much longer the ALP program might exist. Plans are to keep the force at least until 2017, but on the ground this does not seem to be known. Many hope that the ALP will be integrated into the regular security forces, but others already think about surrendering to the Taleban in order to secure their survival.

The following district case studies illustrate how many have fled their checkposts or surrendered to the Taleban. They also present some elements of the chain of incidents that led to the current situation in Kunduz. The last time the Taleban came so close to taking over the provincial capital was in June 1997, and after they succeeded, they were to rule the province for the next four years (3).

A closer look at Chahrdara

Chahrdara has been a longstanding stronghold of the Taleban. The insurgents have been controlling parts of the district and regularly attacked ANSF checkposts (also see previous AAN reporting here). ALP checkpoints along the main road leading to and through Chahrdara that have intermittently been captured during the past months include Ainul Majar Payin, Ainul Majar Bala, Haji Sharif Tepa, Sujani, Mang Tepa, Ghundai and Ay Khanum. The district centre ‘controlled by the government’ basically only constitutes of the perimeter surrounding the district governor’s fortified compound and the police headquarter anymore – outside this area, the Taleban are at home. Recently, they injured Chahrdara’s Police Chief Ghulam Mohiuddin on the road to Kunduz by sending a suicide bomber. In areas under their control, they run a justice commission and parallel courts, travel safely and collect ushr and zakat (Islamic taxes) from the population, in competition with the ALP.

According to the provincial police chief, Ghulam Mohseni, interviewed in May, the ANSF in Chahrdara are “weak and insufficient in number and unable to defend strategic locations in the district.” Among those strategic locations are the road from Chahrdara to Kunduz city and the areas around the villages of Qaria Yatim and Mamakhel.

The road to Kunduz is still under control of the ANA, while Mamakhel remains with the Taleban since 22 July, when they blocked off the access to the Mamakhel ALP post located on the top of a hill. Since then, they have attacked the checkpost relentlessly. Intermittently, they had warned all villagers to leave the area before they would shell the ALP post from the residents’ houses. An informant from Mamakhel reported that once 60 families had to stay with relatives for about 15 days until they could come back.

Qaria Yatim has just been retaken by the ANSF, but it is among the areas which are likely to see Taleban incursions again. Located at the entrance of the district, it guards the access to Kunduz city, which is less than a kilometre away. In early August, an ALP commander posted in one of the three checkposts of that village, Yar Mohammad, defected to the Taleban with nine of his men. Being outnumbered, he and his men accepted the guarantee that they would not be killed if they surrendered and changed sides. The checkpoint fell under the control of the insurgents until it was retaken on 22 August. District Governor Zalmai Faruqi confirmed the defection of the commander to AAN. He denied, though, that two more commanders followed Yar Mohammad’s example as claimed by a local journalist. The Qaria Yatim area also saw 75 per cent of the IED incidents reported by international observers in the district in April this year. Interviewed in June, one of the ALP commanders of Qaria Yatim, Najib, a young Pashtun, claimed that his men could not sustain the fight any longer without receiving more support from the ANSF, particularly equipment (they do not even have binoculars) and food. He also said that if it had not been for the ALP, the road to Kunduz would already be under the control of the insurgents. Echoing the complaints of Najib, a resident of Mamakhel argued

The government always asks us to cooperate with them, and we cooperate. We assigned our sons to the ALP to finally have peace here but the government has left the ALP alone. If the government does not support the ALP post in Mamakhel, the Taleban will arrest all ALP and we will not cooperate anymore, because if the government cannot defend their own police, how can they defend their own people?

A resident from nearby Jaltang village said

The local police cannot fight with the Taleban, and most of the youths who were in the local police put down their weapons and escaped to Iran or Pakistan (…) Now the government cannot eliminate the Taleban and has only one option: conduct night operations again to clean these areas.

For some in Chahrdara, the Taleban have already won. A resident from Sehdokana village expressed fears for the unemployed youth in the district who are vulnerable to the Taleban propaganda

Now that the Taleban are in power in Chahrdara permanently, how are we going to survive? All the development activities will stop, the Taleban have warned everybody who works with the government and the ANSF to quit their jobs and our sons who study in the Taleban’s local madrasas do not listen to their fathers anymore.

A closer look at Kunduz city and its Gor Tepa area

Gor Tepa area, an area to the north of Kunduz city and protected by rivers from three sides (which always made it difficult for security forces to access and secure the area, see also here), has a long history of instability. A combination of isolation within the province and poverty continuously re-fuels ethnic tensions. These have their roots in several waves of displacement in the pre-Taliban period. Today, this area is still under control of Afghan national security forces. However, since early August the Taleban have launched regular attacks against ALP checkposts. They made announcements in the local mosques warning the locals that they would capture Gor Tepa as soon as the offensive in neighbouring Chahrdara was done. The commanders of the Qoshloch and Waqil Kara checkposts (commanders Mohammad Khan and Aziz) called for support from Kunduz officials, who, as they say, have failed to provide ammunition, food and medical care to their men. Commander Aziz, contacted on the phone, burst out

The Kunduz governor and police chief do not care about our nation and the local police fighting for them, they are sitting in their offices under the AC, watching Indian and Turkish dramas all day.

In Gor Tepa, the government, apart from Afghan National Police and Afghan Local Police, is de facto absent as it falls under the authority of the municipality and most government institutions are therefore based in Kunduz city itself. This has contributed to disenfranchising the population that is thus very receptive to anti-government messages. One large factor contributing to this, until last year, was the lack of a proper road connecting the area to Kunduz, helping to deliver basic services and transport goods. The establishment of the ALP in 2011, similarly to other districts of Kunduz, has also contributed to exacerbate frustrations towards the state; since then, ALP and insurgents consistently compete for the collection of ushr at the expense of a population poorer than the province’s average. For some ALP, due to the lack of supplies, preying on the population is the only resort to sustaining the fight against the insurgents.

Meanwhile, insurgents seem to have stocked up on weapons, including those arms seized from occupied ALP checkposts, and extended their areas of influence and, thus, taxation to the villages on the way to Khanabad, east of Kunduz city. Journalists reported at least 20 civilians killed and ten others injured following clashes in the vicinity of Kunduz city around 11 August . In their post-election campaign towards Kunduz, insurgents also attacked the villages of Kanam, Hazrat Sultan, Quchi, Bita Kashan, Kol Tepa and Qadir, forcing families to flee to Kunduz city, and fought against militiamen of Mir Alam, among them the infamous Commander Qadirak (background on him in these AAN dispatches here and here).

It is hard to say who the local people fear more, though: their ‘defenders’ – ALP and other militias – or the Taleban themselves. According to a resident, shortly before the elections, many houses in the area were looted by Mir Alam’s commanders, including Commander Qadirak. As residents had feared what the Taleban might do to them on election day, they fled the area, only to return and find their houses ransacked by Mir Alam’s militias. Qadirak (an ethnic Aymaq), along with fellow commanders Faizak and Navidak (both Tajik) and Matinak (Hazara), has also been responsible for the killing of dozens across Kunduz province over the past two years. The three and their men roam the Pashtun pockets of the Kunduz outskirts as well as Khanabad district where they make a living collecting ushr from the farmers.

It was indeed the predatory presence of these militiamen towards a marginalised Pashtun population that has helped the Taleban to expand their influence in Kunduz city’s suburbs. This began already  in Kanam in September 2012, when commanders Qadirak and Faizak carried out a massacre killing 12 civilians and wounding eight, all of Pashtun ethnicity, on the basis that they were supporting the Taleban. Qadirak was then accused of killing two students who had passionately denounced the massacre, as well as a famous advocate for the prosecution of the commanders, Mirza Ali Tanai. He had led a delegation to Kabul to bring Qadirak and Faizak to justice.

Qadirak was killed in the recent attack of the Taleban in Kanam. All ALP posted in the surrounding villages to Kanam have fled to Kunduz city. The main risk, according to the author’s sources, is now that the Taleban take control of the Kanam hill, from which they can target the provincial capital.

A closer look at Dasht-e Archi

Dasht-e Archi is located to the east of Kunduz city, bordering Takhar province. The district is isolated from the rest of the province for the road connecting the district centre to Kunduz capital is more of a path and a well-known ‘hunting ground’ for criminal groups. Travellers prefer the road via Takhar to reach the district centre, but this is a three-hour detour. The district features an Uzbek and Turkmen-dominated administration – two minority groups securing the most important resources (water, development grants and influential positions) to the expense of the majority of the population which is Pashtun. Governance structures are inexistent; Taleban ‘desert courts’ render justice in the absence of a functioning state system. Despite a series of major operations conducted in the past year (see for exampleAAN reporting here), particularly in September 2013 and February 2014 when militias from all over the province were regrouped to uproot insurgents, the Taleban have strengthened their positions.

During Ramadan, Taleban occupied most of the villages surrounding the district centre. Mullah Quli for instance, an important point of passage in the district, was taken in the first days of August after a series of clashes in which the ALP could not stand their ground (4). The current status of the district is unclear. While the government claims to have retaken it, local sources claim this was not the case, “no area has been taken back from the Taleban.” Another said that “except for the city centre and Qarloq village” (5), that has been retaken following the ANSF operation, “the district is under the control of the Taleban.”

Still in early August, check posts in Archi fell without resistance from the ALP. ALP units fled their posts knowing that they could not win the fight with the insurgents, and the ANSF blindly fired from the district centre into neighbouring areas in an attempt to restrain the advance of the Taleban. As a result, houses we destroyed and civilians killed. Concrete numbers for Archi are not yet available; however, the local office of the Human Rights Commission reports 27 people killed and 84 injured all across the province over the past five months. Locals are now even more frustrated and angry about the government for not protecting them. A resident said on 9 August

The war has gone too far in this district. Last night many people were injured and their cattle were killed. They did not have the chance to take their cattle somewhere else (…) The Taleban have declared that they can occupy the city in an hour if they want to, but that the city is not important to them. Important are the villages where the checkpoints are located because they want to harm the government.

Even the Chahrsaraka checkpoint right at the entrance of the city was abandoned by the ALP, who left all of their ammunition and weapons behind to be seized by insurgents. A week after the checkpoint was taken, the ALP commander, Kamal (brother of the ALP district chief, Commander Jamal), condemned residents for having supported the Taleban in their attack and warned them through phone calls that he would soon take revenge. A resident of the area said

We don’t know what to do. Both sides are armed and well-equipped, and we must obey to anything they order us to do because if we do not comply they will harm us.

Another informant who had to flee his house in Haji Mohammad Alam village said

The Taleban do not let the people go to the city to buy food – they accuse them of spying for the government. At the same time, the ALP also does not allow the people to go out for fear they would give information to the Taleban on the way. 

Reports received by the author detail how both the ALP and Taleban have pulled residents out of their houses, dug holes in the walls and installed rifle pits.

We are not the owners of our property anymore. Everyone uses our houses without permission. A few days ago, the ALP entered a poor mullah’s house and forced him out. They did not even let him take some clothes.

Like in Chahrdara, many ALP members based in Dasht-e Archi have surrendered to the Taleban in the past weeks. The national security forces are well aware of that as this example shows: recently, as a preventive measure, the Afghan army disarmed an ALP member based in Choryan village after his son had surrendered to the insurgents.

A closer look at Imam Sahib

From Dasht-e Archi, insurgents also penetrated neighbouring Imam Sahib district and managed to make inroads into the district and take, among others, the areas of Se Koprak, Naghma Bazaar and Hijran.

Imam Sahib was, until recently, considered one of the safest districts in Kunduz. The Taleban presence was marginal, while most of the threats to citizens emanated from the rampant criminality (Imam Sahib is located on the drug route to Tajikistan, has little police presence outside of the district centre and a failing justice system). The powerful Ibrahimi family, the Uzbek rulers of the district, has always contained the Taleban in the district, though not the criminality. However, after the Taleban had overrun strategic locations on the border between Dasht-e Archi and Imam Sahib, they again applied their strategy to hit and take over ALP checkpoints to secure territory. A worrying sequence of incidents ensued.

One commander, Latif, left his checkpost in the Naghma bazar and hid in the city until he was forced to return to his position by the district police chief. The checkpost of Se Koprak, reputably unbreakable because of the high number of ANSF posted there, was also taken by insurgents. On 9 July, an ALP commander was killed in Chelkipa area. His body was dropped in the river, his gun was taken. On 19 July, the Taleban also attacked a checkpoint in Dawran Qoli, forcing the ALP to quit the area and hide in a school where students where taking exams. On 1 August, a bomb was placed in the Nasir village near an ALP commander’s house, killing his young son. From 5 August, insurgents and ANSF clashed over the town of Kalbat at the border between Imam Sahib and Dasht-e Archi. Taleban took the eastern ALP checkpost, then the ALP took it back. A resident of the town argued that the situation has deteriorated since the release of insurgents from Bagram prison. He said

A man called Jannat had been arrested by the foreign forces and imprisoned in Bagram for years, but then he was released and fled to Waziristan. He is now back, and he stands against the government again.

Neighbouring Dasht-e Archi had been an easy win for the Taleban as there were no government structures to fight in a district that had been ignored by provincial authorities for long. However, the spread of the insurgency to Imam Sahib which used to be a Taleban-immune neighbourhood is concerning.

A closer look at Aliabad

Evidence shows that the deteriorating security situation in the province has also affected Aliabad district, a government-controlled district with a pocket of insurgency located mainly in the areas of Lala Maidan and Mir Sheikh. Aliabad is a strategically interesting location on the highway between Kunduz center and Baghlan province. It is in a volatile position as it also lies in between Taleban-infested Chahrdara in Kunduz and Taleban-infested Baghlan-e Jadid in Baghlan.

In its Taleban controlled areas, many locals today approve of the insurgency as it fights the ALP who is preying on the population with impunity, stealing crops and cattle and extorting money from constructing companies. The fighting between ALP commanders for control over resources has also caused the death of civilians and displacement of families. In July 2013 for instance, commanders Jabar and Osman, two former mujahedin armed under the ALP program, fought over the collection of ushr in the Pul-e Kheshti area and killed two civilians. When the police arrested the two commanders, armed men attacked the convoy in which they were transported only about 100 metres away from the district center and freed the culprits. The two commanders have been free ever since. This statement of a resident of Mir Sheikh illustrates the mood of the population

The government distributes arms and ammunition to some local commanders who fight with each other and cause trouble for the population (…) These armed commanders are more dangerous than the Taleban because they use their weapons against the people, whereas the Taleban don’t harm them, they are only fighting against governmental officials.

Another insurgency ridden area of Aliabad, Lala Maidan, is located ten kilometres away from the district centre, on the west bank of the river, by the mountains. More than 700 families live in the area, mostly ethnic Pashtuns. Here, too, ALP harassment has contributed to antagonizing the communities. During the last days of Ramadan, for example, an ALP officer named Bagla (under the command of Jabar) stormed into a house and killed nine members of a family. Although the police arrested him, locals fear that he will be soon released upon pressure of his backers at the district level. When recently the Taleban took over areas located in the Qora Batun mountains close to Lala Maidan – an area famous for its pistachio trees and an important source of revenue – locals were relieved. Local commanders, among them ALP, used to steal from farmers, locals said. Now, a resident of Lala Maidan reported

The Taleban allow the locals to collect their pistachios in peace. This is why they enjoy a lot of support from the population. And they are just taking ten per cent of ushr on the total revenue in exchange for securing the area.

Also in Mir Sheikh, another insecure area of the district where the ALP is a continuous source of torment for the population (some families even took up weapons against the local police), Taleban came back and were welcomed. Around 10 August, residents reported that Qari Nasrullah, the former Taleban district governor, had returned to the district after years in Pakistan. A resident said,

He is a big threat for the government, especially for the ALP. But he behaves well with the people. He wants to protect them from the harassment of the ALP that caused us to hate the government and welcome the Taleban.

A critical threshold

The recent Taleban push in the districts and towards Kunduz center is without equivalent in the recent history of the province. The current situation highlights both the failure of the government to address local grievances as well as the weakness of a security strategy placing the Afghan Local Police in the frontlines of the fight against the insurgents. A critical threshold has been reached: taking advantage of structural loopholes (the ALP) and a favorable conjecture (the political crisis), the Taleban were able to defeat the forces assigned to counter their expansion in the districts.

What’s next in Kunduz? Although the Taleban are unlikely to take over the province because of the strong presence of ANSF in the Kunduz center, they have gained momentum securing territories. And they have bolstered perceptions that they can overrun the government if they wish to do so.


(1) Mir Alam is an ethnic Tajik and former Jihadi commander who controls and supports militias in the province of Kunduz. Mir Alam’s reported areas of influence extend to Kunduz district (Kunduz city, Gor Tepa, Kanam, Azrat Sultan, Quchi, Kobayi, Abtaj, Azqalan, Tarnab, Shurabi, Panjshiri, Andijani), Chahar Dara (Sujani, Mang Tepa), some villages in Qala-e Zal, Khan Abad and Ali Abad. On military-political actors in Kunduz province also see our reports here, here and here.

(2) The ethnic mosaic of Kunduz’ population includes a plurality of Pashtuns and minorities of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Hazaras, Arabs, Aimaq and Baloch.

(3) Kunduz fell to the Taleban after the defection of major commanders of Jamiat, Hezb-e Islami and Ittehad to the movement in May-June 1997; back then, their forces around Kunduz were not massive but mostly concentrated around the airport (for more background, read Nils Woermer’s AAN paper “The Networks of Kunduz” here).

(4) Mullah Quli is located in the Northern part of the district. The area has been struggled over for years between the ANSF and the Taleban. It is the place where the Taleban stoned to death an eloping couple in August 2010, see Rod Nordland, In Bold Display, Taleban Order Stoning Deaths, New York Times, 16 August 2010.

(5) Qarloq is an Uzbek-populated area of the district located around eight kilometers away from the center. Most of the district officials come from here (including the district governor and the chief of police). On 10 August, the Taleban attacked Qarloq but faced resistance from the ANP. Locals reported that 13 insurgents were killed.


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Thematic Category: War & Peace