Why the Afghan Military Collapsed So Quickly

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The surrenders seem to be happening as fast as the Taliban can travel.

In the past several days, the Afghan security forces have collapsed in more than 15 cities under the pressure of a Taliban advance that began in May. On Friday, officials confirmed that those included two of the country’s most important provincial capitals: Kandahar and Herat.

The swift offensive has resulted in mass surrenders, captured helicopters and millions of dollars of American-supplied equipment paraded by the Taliban on grainy cellphone videos. In some cities, heavy fighting had been underway for weeks on their outskirts, but the Taliban ultimately overtook their defensive lines and then walked in with little or no resistance.

This implosion comes despite the United States having poured more than $83 billion in weapons, equipment and training into the country’s security forces over two decades.

Building the Afghan security apparatus was one of the key parts of the Obama administration’s strategy as it sought to find a way to hand over security and leave nearly a decade ago. These efforts produced an army modeled in the image of the United States’ military, an Afghan institution that was supposed to outlast the American war.

in an accumulation of losses that started even before President Biden’s announcement that the United States would withdraw by Sept. 11.

It began with individual outposts in rural areas where starving and ammunition-depleted soldiers and police units were surrounded by Taliban fighters and promised safe passage if they surrendered and left behind their equipment, slowly giving the insurgents more and more control of roads, then entire districts. As positions collapsed, the complaint was almost always the same: There was no air support or they had run out of supplies and food.

But even before that, the systemic weaknesses of the Afghan security forces — which on paper numbered somewhere around 300,000 people, but in recent days have totaled around just one-sixth of that, according to U.S. officials — were apparent. These shortfalls can be traced to numerous issues that sprung from the West’s insistence on building a fully modern military with all the logistical and supply complexities one requires, and which has proved unsustainable without the United States and its NATO allies.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, an infamous warlord and a former Afghan vice president who has survived the past 40 years of war by cutting deals and switching sides.

On Friday, another prominent Afghan warlord and former governor, Mohammad Ismail Khan, who had resisted Taliban attacks in western Afghanistan for weeks and rallied many to his cause to push back the insurgent offensive, surrendered to the insurgents.

the Taliban were breaching the outskirts of the southern city of Lashkar Gah, a hodgepodge group of border force soldiers were holding the line. The police officers who were supposed to be defending the area had long surrendered, retreated or had been paid off by the Taliban, as has occurred in many parts of the country over the past year.

Equipped with rifles and machine guns, some dressed in uniforms, others not, the border soldiers beamed when their stubble-bearded captain, Ezzatullah Tofan, arrived at their shell-racked position, a house abandoned during the fighting.

He always comes to the rescue, one soldier said.

Late last month, as the Taliban pushed into Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand Province, an outpost called their headquarters elsewhere in the city asking for reinforcements. In an audio recording obtained by The New York Times, the senior commander on the other end asked them to stay and fight.

Captain Tofan was bringing reinforcements, he said, and to hold on a little longer. That was around two weeks ago.

By Friday, despite the Afghan military’s tired resistance, repeated flights of reinforcements and even American B-52 bombers overhead, the city was in the hands of the Taliban.

Taimoor Shah and Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Najim Rahim and Fatima Faizi contributed from Kabul. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Afghanistan Collapse Accelerates as 2 Vital Cities Near Fall to Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two more major cities in western and southern Afghanistan were on the verge of collapse to the Taliban on Thursday night, as the insurgency’s race to seize control of the country accelerated.

With the Taliban’s sudden gains in Kandahar, in the country’s southern Pashtun heartland, and Herat, a vital cultural and economic hub, the insurgents appear to be nearing a complete military takeover. Only four major cities — including the capital, Kabul — remain under government control, and two of them are under siege by the Taliban.

Over the past week, the Taliban have toppled city after city in a stunning advance that has well positioned the insurgents to attack Kabul. It has also laid bare the Afghan security forces’ near complete collapse less than three weeks before the United States is set to completely withdraw. Some American officials fear the Afghan government will implode within 30 days, and are preparing for an evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The insurgents now control well over half of the country’s 400-odd districts. And with the fall of Kandahar and Herat, along with another provincial capital south of Kabul, Ghazni, and one in the northwest, Qala-e-Naw — all on Thursday — the insurgents will control 13 provincial capitals.

eeking assurances from the Taliban that they will not attack the embassy if the insurgents overrun the capital, two American officials said.

Afghan security forces, exhausted and overstretched by the Taliban’s advance, are giving up across the country. On Wednesday, an entire Afghan army corps in the northern city Kunduz surrendered to Taliban fighters, who had seized control of the city a few days before. They handed over their weapons and vehicles to the insurgents and ceded control of the city’s airport, officials said.

As the Taliban have pressed on their brutal offensive, thousands of displaced people have flocked to Kabul, one of the last islands of government control not yet under siege. Hundreds of thousands of others have been trapped between fighting in city streets and airstrikes from the sky.

“Every second here I am concerned, I am crying,” said Humaira Jahion, 47, who fled to Kabul from the northern city Kunduz hours before it fell to the Taliban on Sunday.

For two nights she sheltered in her home with her seven children, afraid to leave after a mortar landed half a block from her house. Now, thinking about her family’s future as she crowded in with hundreds of others in a makeshift shelter, a look of anguish washed over her face.

“There is no future here,” she said. “There is no future for me and there is no future for my children.”

Asadullah Timory, Najim Rahim, Jim Huylebroek and Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Fear Sets in as Taliban Seize Former Bastions of Resistance

Sayed Mohammad Alizada, 40, a resident of Kunduz, spent more than a month waking up to the unrelenting sound of mortars and gunfire in the distance. Then one night early last month, as the front lines crept deeper into his neighborhood, a mortar landed outside his home. Finally, he fled on Sunday, hours after the Taliban seized the city.

“I thought if they kept firing mortars, I could lose my entire family, even myself,” said Mr. Alizada, who was injured by crossfire during the battle. “It was the most intense fighting we’ve ever seen.”

Sitting across from an open door in his living room, he had felt the sharp pain of shrapnel tearing through his left shoulder. Within minutes, he and his family crammed into his rickshaw and sped toward the hospital as clashes between government troops and Taliban fighters broke out blocks away.

By the time he left Kunduz on Sunday, the city he knew was almost unrecognizable: The buildings were bullet-riddled. The roads were pockmarked with craters from mortar fire. Outside his house, a mulberry tree had been split in two by a mortar.

His was one of the more than 6,000 families who have been displaced from Kunduz since the Taliban seized the city, according to Mohammad Yousef Khadam, head of emergency situations for Kunduz’s refugees and repatriations department.

Many have fled to Kabul, where a fenced-in basketball court in a park downtown has been transformed into a place of refuge. Displaced people huddled together under makeshift lodging consisting of little more than large olive-green bedsheets stretched across four wooden poles.

As people arrived Sunday night, they searched for any space they could find. Women and children slept side by side on a patchwork of red Afghan rugs. One woman cradling an infant begged for a doctor to visit the camp. She had slept in the biting cold in the park the night before, she said, and her daughter had become sick.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Taliban Capture Zaranj, an Afghanistan Provincial Capital, in a Symbolic Victory

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban captured a regional hub city in western Afghanistan on Friday, officials said, the first provincial capital to fall to the insurgency since the Biden administration announced the full withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The successful takeover marks a significant milestone in the insurgents’ relentless march to increase their stranglehold on the Afghan government and retake power in the country. The Taliban have besieged a host of such cities for weeks, and the fall of Zaranj, the provincial capital of Nimruz Province on the Afghanistan-Iran border, is the Taliban’s first breakthrough. And it handed the insurgents another crucial international border crossing, the latest in its recent campaign to control road access in Afghanistan.

A regional administrative hub is now completely controlled by the Taliban, an attention-grabbing addition to their steady drumbeat of rural victories in recent months. It was a considerable setback for the government, which has had to contend with simultaneous attacks on capital cities that have stretched military resources desperately thin.

The collapse of Zaranj at the hands of the insurgents was confirmed Friday by Rohgul Khairzad, the deputy governor of Nimruz, and Hajji Baz Mohammad Naser, the head of the provincial council.

coordinated attack by the insurgent group on the residence of the acting defense minister that left eight people dead. That assault highlighted the Taliban’s ability to strike in the heart of the Afghan capital as they continue their sweeping military campaign.

In northern Afghanistan on Friday, the Taliban attacked another provincial capital, Sheberghan, from five directions, burning houses and wedding halls, and assaulting the police headquarters and the prison. There were numerous civilian casualties, said Halima Sadaf Karimi, a member of Parliament from Jowzjan Province, of which Sheberghan is the capital.

Fighting also continued around the major western city of Herat, in Kandahar city in the south and in other provincial capitals.

The government’s response to the insurgents’ recent victories has been piecemeal. Afghan forces have retaken some districts, but both the Afghan Air Force and its commando forces — which have been deployed to hold what territory remains as regular army and police units retreat, surrender or refuse to fight — are exhausted.

In the security forces’ stead, the government has once more looked to local militias to fill the gaps, a move reminiscent of the chaotic and ethnically divided civil war of the 1990s that many Afghans now fear will return.

In recent weeks, the U.S. military has increased airstrikes on Taliban positions around crucial cities in an effort to give Afghan forces on the ground time to regroup. The strikes alone do little to change the situation on the ground, but have slowed Taliban advances.

The United States is supposed to complete its withdrawal by Aug. 31, at which point the Biden administration has said its military operations will end. That would give the Afghan government mere weeks to reconstitute its security forces to defend the cities and territory still under its control.

At a special session of the United Nations Security Council on Friday, Deborah Lyons, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for Afghanistan, warned that without action, the country could descend “into a situation of catastrophe so serious that it would have few, if any, parallels in this century.”

Afghanistan, she said, had come to resemble the battlefields of Syria and Sarajevo, with the Taliban making a “strategic decision” to attack urban areas, causing hundreds of deaths among civilians in just the last few weeks. The fighting, she said, comes on top of a punishing drought that has left 18.5 million people in need of humanitarian aid.

She added: “As one Afghan put it to us recently, ‘We are no longer talking about preserving the progress and the rights we have gained, we are talking about mere survival.’”

Reporting was contributed by Christina Goldbaum, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Michael Schwirtz.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Fear and Misery in an Afghan City Where Taliban Stalk the Streets

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — The Afghan way of war in 2021 comes down to this: a watermelon vendor on a sweltering city street, a government Humvee at the front line just 30 feet away, and Taliban fighters lurking unseen on the other side of the road.

When the shooting starts, the vendor makes himself scarce, leaving his melons on the table and hoping for the best. When it stops, selling resumes, to customers now all too rare.

“I don’t have a choice. I’ve got to sell the melons,” said the vendor, Abdel Alim, speaking to New York Times journalists while he kept an eye on a lane within Kunduz city from which he said Taliban had emerged. “Most people have left,” he said. “There is fighting all the time.”

374,000 in Afghanistan’s north, and several other provincial capitals as well, as the Afghan government’s war with the Taliban enters a new and dangerous phase. For weeks, the insurgents have captured vulnerable districts across the country’s north, sometimes without even firing a shot. And on Wednesday, the Taliban said they had captured an important border crossing with Pakistan, at Spin Boldak — the fourth crossing they have seized in less than a month.

taken by the insurgents in 2015 and then again in 2016. Both times, the insurgents were eventually pushed back by the Afghan forces with help from American airstrikes. It was here that an American gunship mistakenly blasted a Doctors Without Borders hospital in 2015, killing 42 people.

This time, the Americans won’t be coming. The battle for Kunduz has become an intimate fight between Afghan opponents at close range.

“Every night they come to these houses and fire on us,” said the chief of police of Kunduz’s Third Municipal District, Sayed Mansoor Hashimi, looking out at now-vacant dwellings all around his police station. “Slowly, slowly they are tightening the circle.”

The war in Kunduz is intertwined with the fabric of the city. Shopping trips are planned between bursts of war. Residents no longer pay sufficient attention, said Marzia Salam Yaftali, the medical director at Kunduz Regional Hospital. “They are wounded in the streets or in the bazaar,” she said.

At the hospital, Ezzatullah, 14, lay in one of the wards, his legs wrapped in bandages: He lost both his feet when a mortar landed as he was playing outside his house. Three members of his family, including one of his parents, were killed.

“I can’t go to school now,” he said. Asked what he saw as his future, he replied firmly: “I want to be a man, to rebuild my country.”

The war, and the enemy, are inescapable. “We have to live here. Where can we go?” asked Ezamuddin Safi, a telecommunications worker who had to flee his home inside the city in early July. He was passing the day inside a small downtown restaurant.

“My 3-year-old boy, he screams when he hears the firing. He’s tired,” said Mr. Safi, 25. “Taliban are everywhere.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

U.S. Leaves Its Last Afghan Base, Effectively Ending Operations

By 2001, the United States had inherited rubble at the Bagram site. In January 2002, when the first American service member killed by enemy fire, Sgt. First Class Nathan R. Chapman, was sent home, there were no American flags to drape on his coffin, so a flag patch from someone’s uniform had to suffice.

By 2011, at the height of the American war, the air base had ballooned into a small city, with two runways, tens of thousands of occupants, shops and a U.S. military prison that became notorious. The thunder of jets and other aircraft, armed with hundreds of pounds of munitions that were dropped across the country, sometimes killing civilians, became a constant soundtrack for local residents throughout the conflict.

The base was also more violently attacked over the years, often by Taliban rockets and mortars, but sometimes by other means. In one of the worst strikes, in November 2016, a suicide bomber sneaked onto Bagram Air Base, hidden among a group of workers. The blast killed four Americans and wounded more than a dozen others.

Other foreign forces that helped guard the base as part of the U.S.-led coalition, like those from Georgia and the Czech Republic, saw their own casualties during their deployments.

In 2014, as the United States concluded its first official drawdown after the surge of troops in the years before — which brought the number of American and other international forces into the country to well over 100,000 — Bagram began to shrink.

Local contractors were fired, troops left and the surrounding town of the same name went into a downward economic spiral. Many residents had been reliant on the base for employment, and others had sorted through the camp’s refuse for goods that could be sold or shipped to Kabul.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

On the Front Line: A Night With Afghan Commandos

On a recent night raid, a Times photographer captured Afghanistan’s elite forces as they disrupted Taliban operations in one of the country’s most volatile provinces.

SOMEWHERE OVER HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — As the city lights faded and the Soviet-era military helicopter banked over the fields and canals of southern Afghanistan one night in May, the Afghan commandos on board made their final checks, looking at maps and adjusting their weapons before turning on their night-vision goggles.

Their objective: to dismantle a bomb-making factory inside a squat mud-brick house in Chah Anjir, a village in Nadali, a district in Helmand Province that is completely under Taliban control.

Just days earlier, the Taliban had opened an offensive on Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah. Afghan government forces had lost ground. The city was under siege. Frantic to relieve some of the pressure on the capital, security officials committed their most elite of the Afghan special operations forces to the province.

21,000 Afghans in the commando forces, with hopes to greatly expand the program.

more than 20 Afghan commandos were killed when their offensive operation to retake a district in the country’s northwest was derailed by a vicious Taliban counterattack.

The outcome of the May raid, documented on the special forces team leader’s cellphone, was considered a success: bomb-making materials were seized and destroyed. Four Taliban members were killed while his men took no casualties. How much that changed the broader battle’s outcome in Lashkar Gah is questionable, but it kept one of the Taliban’s deadliest tactics — roadside bombs and homemade mines — off the battlefield for a brief time.

The commandos returned to Bost Airfield, a civilian airport. But that night it turned into a temporary command center for the unit. Officials had set up television displays and radios atop its small terminal, under a starry sky as fighting echoed in the distance.

Inside the helicopters as the city came back into view, some commandos joked among themselves, others took forceful drags from cigarettes.

Their mission was over. For now.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Pentagon Accelerates Withdrawal From Afghanistan

To keep tabs on the military situation on the ground, the U.S. military wants to continue using some version of what it calls the Combined Situational Awareness Room, where it coordinates with its Afghan counterparts (often over WhatsApp), funneling information and helping put air support and other forces into place on the battlefield. But it remains unclear where the command center would be, with options including the American Embassy or outside the country.

Though the Afghan Air Force has become increasingly capable in recent years, American drones and other surveillance aircraft still provide key targeting information. And U.S. strikes, though reduced under extremely restrictive rules of engagement, still occur as international forces depart and Afghan security forces struggle to hold ground.

U.S. military officials believe the United States will devote a significant number of reconnaissance aircraft to continue to help the Afghan forces but will limit airstrikes to “counterterrorism operations” only, a loose description that has been used in the past to justify a variety of actions.

With no bases to position aircraft close to Afghanistan, that means American aircraft will have to fly from bases in the Middle East or from aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea to support Afghan forces or to conduct counterterrorism missions from “over the horizon.”

For prop-powered surveillance drones and planes, that means several-hour trips just to get to Afghanistan.

For jets based on aircraft carriers, that means frequent midair refueling stops. As land-based U.S. jets leave Afghanistan, United States forces are struggling to meet the demand for carrier-based aircraft because of an increased need for refueling tankers. For now, the jets onboard the U.S.S. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea can fulfill only around 75 percent of the requests over Afghanistan, a military official said.

Questioned by lawmakers last month about the challenges of countering terrorist threats in Afghanistan after American troops leave, Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, said, “It’s going to be extremely difficult to do, but it is not impossible.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

What the War in Afghanistan Looks Like on the Front Line

As bullets from a Taliban machine gun ricocheted through the street below, an Afghan soldier wearing an “I Heart Kabul” T-shirt took a brief rest. “There has been fighting day and night.”


LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan — The war is just on the other side of this wall, a partly destroyed cinder block barricade in southern Afghanistan.

A week ago, a family lived in a house on the property. They have since fled, and their home has been converted into a fighting position held by a half-dozen soldiers, along with their spent shell casings and empty energy drink cans.

The roof terrace is pockmarked from a rocket-propelled grenade explosion, and there are holes bored out of the mud brick for machine guns and rifles to fire through.

American withdrawal got underway, the Taliban began their latest offensive on the provincial capital on May 1, a date that tied neatly with the poor weather and blowing dust that prevented air support from stopping them. The insurgents struck elsewhere in the country at roughly the same time, taking several Afghan Army bases in the north.

Capt. Shir Agha Safi, an intelligence officer who moves around Helmand Province, had not come to terms with the planned U.S. departure, because the Americans, their foreign-sounding names, and aircraft and drones are still ingrained into almost every part of the war.

“They won’t leave us,” Captain Safi said of the Americans, convinced that the withdrawal was not really happening.

Almost every day Captain Safi talks to the U.S. Army captain who helped him for months by coordinating airstrikes from nearby Camp New Antonik, a scab of a base built between the ruins of Bastion and Leatherneck, former British and American installations that are now decaying relics of the war’s last chapter.

The American flag folded for the last time at Antonik on May 2, leaving freezers full of apple pies, chicken and bean burritos, boxes of medical supplies and fluorescent glow sticks that have since been harvested by Afghan forces nearby. The smell of musk and body odor still lingered in the rooms once inhabited by American troops when the Afghan soldiers came to retrieve anything left behind.

Captain Safi’s link to the U.S. military is now back at Bagram, a sprawling base in Afghanistan that will become one of the United States’ last before the country fully withdraws sometime this summer. Despite his geographical distance, the American captain continues to help direct airstrikes as a key member of a WhatsApp group: the Helmand Targeting Team. The group chat of messages, pictures and grid coordinates is a virtual meeting room for Afghan and American forces planning daily bombing runs in the province.

Around noon on Monday, the day was heating up as Captain Safi stared out over the Helmand River from one of the city’s military bases. Along the river banks, families bathed in the water and children played in the shade. Around him, commandos prepared for their next mission. Some rested under their armored vehicles, others prepared their weapons and gear.

Above him an Afghan A-29, a single prop bomber, swooped down over the western bank of the river, dropping a 250-pound Mk-81 unguided bomb on, what Captain Safi said, was a group of Taliban fighters trying to position themselves to strike the airport.

The plume of smoke, shock wave and finally audible blast barely caught the attention of those enjoying the warm day along the river bank. Traffic moved steadily into the city, busier than usual because of the approaching Eid holiday commemorating the end of Ramadan. Nobody bothered to leave as the flight of aircraft returned three more times, steering into a dive to drop the remaining ordnance hooked under their wings. It would take more than an airstrike to cut this day short for these families who so far had refused to flee.

As the planes departed and the smoke drifted lazily into the air, Captain Safi laid back on a green cot and put his hand to his temple, exhausted. At 28, he had been in the military for 11 years.

“It has been a tough decade,” he said.

It may only get worse. Staring at a map of Lashkar Gah in his command center earlier in the day, Captain Safi gestured at the little blue dots that denoted police checkpoints in the surrounding area — arguably the Afghan government’s front line.

“Ninety percent of them are gone,” Captain Safi said, and he turned back to his radio.

Now, supported by armored personnel carriers outfitted with automatic grenade launchers and heavy machine guns and the better-trained mobile strike team commandos that crew the hulking vehicles, Corporal Hamza and his gang of border forces soldiers were waiting to clear the surrounding neighborhoods still firmly in Taliban hands. The modest goal: to give Lashkar Gah a slightly bigger security bubble of government presence.

But until the police returned to their positions, Corporal Hamza would have to stay on the line, doing a job that was supposed to be someone else’s. His bushy-browed commander, Capt. Ezzatullah Tofan, laid it out plainly, showing a screenshot on his phone to his troops as the PKM machine gun on the roof fired away. The document, Captain Tofan said, indicated that the police and local militias would not return to their posts any time soon.

“You’ll have to keep fighting,” Captain Tofan explained. His men seemed strangely unfazed, as if they knew this had been coming or, at the least, resigned to their fate.

A three-day cease-fire was announced by both sides beginning Thursday to commemorate Eid, leaving the troops here incredulous. It was an excuse, they said, so the Taliban could move fighters and equipment back to the front lines without fear of being attacked.

When the cease-fire ends, the war will once more be on the other side of the wall.

“I’m happy for my family,” Corporal Hamza said of the holiday, “But I will be here.”

Jim Huylebroek contributed reporting.

View Source