Afghan Losses Grow; Taliban Controls 65% of Country

Taliban seizes two more provincial capitals

Major territory losses over the weekend were an ominous sign for the Afghan government. Five provincial capitals fell, suggesting a costly new stage in the war. A sixth capital fell Monday, and on Tuesday, two more.

Tuesday’s losses include the Baghlan capital of Pul-e Khumri and Farah, cutting deeper into territory in northern Afghanistan and the west. The Taliban also contested Mazar-e Sharif, though the military has so far managed to repel them.

EU officials are estimating that the Taliban now control some 65% of Afghanistan. Afghan officials had previously downplayed the percentages, arguing that the government controlled almost all of the cities. After the past few days, that’s plainly no longer the case.

The Pul-e Khumri loss followed one of the more disturbing trends for the Afghan military: the city fell without a major battle. The troops fled into the desert, and are headed to a nearby military base.

On top of all of this, Mazar-e Sharif is still on the table, as is Herat. Kandahar, one of the biggest cities of all, is also contested.

As the weekend losses grew, the Afghan government started a serious propaganda campaign to downplay what was happening going from the argument that they hold all the cities to arguing that even if a bunch of cities are plainly falling, the Taliban aren’t contesting control over Kabul itself.

Kabul isn’t on the verge of falling, but then it isn’t being directly contested yet. A mostly rural country, Afghanistan isn’t so dependent on Kabul that the government could maintain itself on just that single city with everything else dropping left and right.

The US is throwing more air support behind the government, but so far that’s centered on Helmand, destroying a school and a health clinic and killing at least 20 civilians. That, needless to say, is not a productive counter-attack.

The Afghan government’s own counter-attacks don’t seem to be shaping up much better, as reinforcements are scrambled to a few cities to contest a Taliban takeover, but other cities are falling with little to no resistance. Even in cities where fighting has taken place, the Taliban seems more able to maintain this sort of sustained operation on several fronts.

Losses are big and rapid right now, and even if the Afghan government isn’t publicly panicking about that fact, there is very good reason to be worried that this could quickly get even more out of hand than it already is.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.