Night Watch

Afghanistan: Security. Yesterday, Taliban's Voice of Jihad reported major Taliban gains in Kunduz Province in northern Afghanistan. "Mujahedin of the Islamic Emirate have control over all the areas in Imam Sahib, Chahar Darah, Khanabad, and Dasht-e Archi Districts of Kunduz Province that were cleared of the mercenary enemy and malicious militias a few days ago. Local people are supporting the mujahedin in the fight against criminals and the enemy's advance has been halted."

The Afghan government denied the Taliban claims.

Comment: Kunduz is a border province in north-central Afghanistan across the Amu Darya River from Tajikistan. It is important because of a new bridge across the Amu Darya at Sher Khan Bandar. It has seven districts, including the four the Taliban now claim to control.

About five years ago it was an expansion area for the Taliban, who obtained support from a large population of Pashtuns transplanted from the south generations earlier. The finances, bomb makers, senior leadership and other support originally came from southern Taliban agents via Pakistan's tribal agencies.

German forces were responsible for security in Kunduz Province for more than a decade. They conducted dozens of operations to rid this sparsely populated province of Taliban, but failed. Chahar Darah District was the base from which the Taliban expanded. Most of its population is Pashtun and it is protected by a river with a single bridge near Kunduz City.

The Taliban did not claim they control Kunduz City, the provincial capital. That would mean that they claimed to control the entire province, which is not the case.

The government should be able to recover Imam Sahib and Khanabad district centers, which are economically important because the main road from the bridge at Sher Khan Bandar passes south through them towards Kabul. However it probably lacks the ability to hold them against the Taliban.

More importantly, the pattern of seizing districts is significant. The capture of multiple districts in Kunduz matches Taliban operations in Helmand and other provinces in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban are testing their ability to take and hold ground against government forces about to lose most Western support.

Politics. In a news conference on 26 August, Dr. Abdullah's spokesman, Fazel Ahmad Manawi, threatened to withdraw from the voter fraud audit in the next 24 hours unless the demands of Abdullah's election team are met. The demands apparently involve the process of disqualifying votes. Manawi called the audit a "joke."


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