The insurgents’ success in northern Afghanistan is an ill omen for Kabul.
Since the Taliban emerged in the 1990s, northern Afghanistan has been the center of resistance to insurgents – mostly Pashtun and southerly – and a bulwark against a complete takeover.
But as the insurgents waged their massive military offensive this summer, they pushed deep into northern Afghanistan.
Now, they have seized six cities in recent days, including five in the north of the country. And experts fear that if government forces are unable to stop their advances in the north, the Afghan capital is more vulnerable than ever.
“The north is strategic for the Taliban because they believe that if they can capture these non-Pashtun areas then they can easily take control of the south and the capital, Kabul,” said Ramish Salemi, political analyst in Kabul.
The Taliban took control of Kabul in 1996, ushering in the group’s five-year rule over much of the country. But an armed coalition of northern militias known as the Northern Alliance deprived them of a complete takeover.
For years, militias fought battles against the Taliban and dug small pockets free from Taliban rule in northern Afghanistan. This resistance was led by people like Ahmed Shah Massoud, the notorious anti-Taliban commander who was killed by Al Qaeda before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
In recent years, acknowledging the fierce resistance the insurgency faced in the north, the Taliban have taken advantage of local grievances to recruit fighters from the north. This laid the foundation for their current military campaign.
They also wooed fighters from neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan who were unhappy with the presence of foreign forces and looked down upon Northern Alliance leaders, analysts said, for corruption and cooperation with “the occupation.”
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