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Regional Interests

Taliban Fighters Overwhelm 3 Major Cities In A Single Day

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

The Taliban is making major gains in Afghanistan, taking control of three cities on Sunday. Officials in the northern province of Kunduz say the governor's office, the police headquarters and the main prison are now in Taliban hands. It's one of three major cities to be claimed by insurgents in a single day, the most significant gain by the Taliban since the final phase of the U.S. troop withdrawal began. And joining us now to talk about all of this is Susannah George from Kabul. She's a reporter with The Washington Post. Thanks for being with us, Susannah.

SUSANNAH GEORGE: Thank you so much.

ELLIOTT: So how significant is this, these advances over the weekend? What does this mean in terms of the Taliban's fight to take hold of the whole country?

GEORGE: These advances are incredibly significant. The Taliban's sweep across Afghanistan that began not long after the final phase of the withdrawal of foreign forces began - that was in early May - it happened a lot faster than U.S. and Afghan officials were anticipating. And now it seems this change or shift in Taliban tactics to move away from concentrating on urban - on rural areas to now concentrating on urban areas in cities. This is also happening at a much faster pace than people anticipated. So not only is it the places that the Taliban have decided to focus their attacks. Kunduz is an incredibly important city to the Afghan government because of where it lies along trade routes but also the speed with which these attacks appear to be having some success.

ELLIOTT: Let's talk about that speed. How is it that the Taliban fighters have been able to move so quickly?

GEORGE: Well, when I talk to Afghan forces on the ground, what they tell me is that - the first thing they mention is air strikes. They say that if only they had the level of U.S. air support that they had when forces were here in full, they - these Taliban advances - we would not be seeing them. But there's a lot of other factors that go into that. There is the lack of U.S. support on the ground in case Afghan forces who are launching an operation on their own get into trouble. There is the lack now of U.S. medevac assistance. And what these capabilities - when you take these out, what they do is they really do damage the morale of Afghan forces. And it undermines their willingness to conduct operations on their own or to hold a checkpoint in a remote area. And so these are the things that have really, all added together, allowed the Taliban to gain the momentum that they have quickly.

ELLIOTT: Quickly, the Biden administration wants to get most U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the month. Is there any indication that these developments over the weekend could impact that timeline?

GEORGE: We have not seen any indication of that at all on this side. But what we have heard is that the U.S. has not made a decision about whether or not U.S. airstrikes will continue in support of Afghan forces after the August 31 deadline.

ELLIOTT: Well, thank you so much. Washington Post reporter Susannah George in Kabul.

GEORGE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.