When President Ashraf Ghani visited the northern provincial capital of Kunduz last fall, after the city had finally been reclaimed after falling to the Taliban, he promised improvements to make sure things never got out of hand again, the New York Times reported.
Among the changes was creating three new administrative districts to help improve government support in the province. But nearly eight months later, those three districts are firmly under the control of the Taliban and, in fact, government forces were never able to clear them and install the new officials. It is the same story in much of the rest of Kunduz Province, where the Taliban control or have mined many roads and have enforced their ban on smoking and listening to music in several areas.
Even in some of the Kunduz districts nominally under government control, officials’ true reach remains limited to the bazaars and the administrative buildings, with the Taliban having free movement in the villages, according to local residents. And last week, the government all but lost control of another district in the province, Qala-i-Zal.
“The district administrative building is neither with us nor with the Taliban,” the provincial police chief, Gen. Qasim Jangalbagh, said in an interview in Kunduz on Wednesday. “We have planted mines, and they have planted mines. So, it’s back and forth like that.”
The situation in the northern province speaks to a broader struggle this year for the Afghan security forces, with months of the Taliban’s offensive still ahead. Although the Afghan forces have so far done better in defending territory this year after a disastrous 2015, they have seemed unable to turn back the insurgents’ gains.
In southern Afghanistan, several districts in Helmand and Uruzgan provinces either remain under Taliban control or are cut off by the insurgents with the government barely clinging to administrative buildings.
Even the expansion of American powers to conduct airstrikes has not eased the concerns of local officials in a year in which both civilian casualties and Afghan security force losses are on pace for record highs.
Abdul Karim Khadimzai, the head of the provincial council in Uruzgan, expressed concern that the security situation was spiraling out of control.
“Most of the districts are cut off by the Taliban and only the district centers are nominally controlled by the government,” Mr. Khadimzai said.
“There is nothing to eat and wear, our men are staying in the trenches for 14 months, and they are homesick and have not got a single day off to take rest or be out of danger,” said Anar Gul, a local police commander in Khas Uruzgan. “We are just counting days and night in this hardship, and any moment we are expecting death.”
In Helmand, officials said the government has been unable to regain the territories lost last year, although airstrikes have so far prevented further Taliban advances. The Babaji suburb of the provincial capital and many of the province’s northern districts remain controlled or contested by the Taliban.
Estimates differ about the amount of Afghanistan under insurgent control or threat this summer.
“As of May, our assessment was that approximately nine districts were under insurgent control and about 27 districts were under some level of insurgent influence,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for United States forces in Afghanistan.
Sediq Sediqqi, an Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman, said government forces did not have control over nine districts and faced threats in 40-45 other districts that they were working to repel.