In the last two decades of war in Afghanistan, the Taliban have not achieved what they have achieved in the last three days, seizing control of five provincial capitals. Three of them, including the major city of Kunduz, fell to the Taliban on Sunday, a fateful day for Afghan security forces unable to stop the Taliban steamroller.

The insurgents have also seized Sar-e-Pol and Taloqan, adding to two other provincial capitals they already controlled, Sheberghan and Zaranj.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Mirwais Stannikzai has come out to say that security forces, backed by aviation, have launched “a mop-up operation” in the city of Kunduz, which would include the deployment of special forces.

For the moment, on the ground, there is chaos. The Taliban are harassing large urban centres, while the population is fleeing the fighting.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, imposing their ultra-rigorous version of Islamic law, before being ousted by a US-led international coalition. Their expansion has accelerated with the beginning of the final withdrawal of international troops in early May.

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