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The Taliban returns

The Taliban returns


Just months after US President Joe Biden announced he’d be withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, the country is in chaos. How serious is the Taliban threat?


Claudia, narrating:

Hi, I’m Claudia – and this is Sensemaker – from tortoisemedia.com

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, how the Taliban are advancing in Afghanistan – again.

“The militants have seized five provincial capitals in the last few days as foreign forces leave the country. The cities appear to have fallen within hours of each other.”

BBC news

“In the last four days, six provincial capitals have fallen to the Taliban Saranj, Sheberghan, Taloqan, Sar e Paul , Kunduz and today Ibak.”

Channel 4 news

Just months after US President Joe Biden announced he’d be withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, the country is in chaos. 

Government forces are trying to keep Taliban militants at bay, but they’re failing. 

Over the past week, in city after city, the Taliban have fought fiercely – and won.

They control nine provincial capitals now. 

But for today we’ll be looking at the most important one: Kunduz.

Fire and confusion in the center of Kunduz. Taliban pictures appear to show yet another city falling under their control. This is their biggest prize so far, a large city economically and strategically important. And it seems to have fallen easily, BBC

In Kunduz, the Taliban have moved into government offices.

They’ve taken over police stations. 

And they’ve planted their white and black flag firmly in the city centre. 

From 1996 until the US invasion in 2001, the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan. 

Now that the US is leaving, they are roaring back. 

And the capture of Kunduz shows they want control


Thousands of civilians have already left their homes in Kunduz.

They are fleeing from the shooting and the bombings – and from the threat of the Taliban’s brutal regime. 

Dip under clip of woman talking, Associated Press

That’s Malika Bano, a woman who’s escaped from Kunduz province.

Her family had so little with them that to pay for the journey out of Kunduz, they had to sell the earrings her daughter-in-law was wearing to a taxi driver. 

Now they’re camping in a park in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, alongside hundreds of other displaced families. 

In a matter of days, Malika Bano’s life was turned upside down. 

And what happened to her and her family – the speed of it – mirrors what’s happening in the rest of the country…

Because the pace of the Taliban’s takeover has been staggering.

But how has it all happened so fast? 


Four months ago, President Joe Biden made an announcement. 

“We went to war with clear goals.  We achieved those objectives.  Bin Laden is dead, and al Qaeda is degraded in Iraq — in Afghanistan.  And it’s time to end the forever war.”


After two decades of war, America was going to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. 

That decision had an explosive effect. 

Because things haven’t exactly been good for the Afghan government. 

​​The UN says that in 2020, violence reached a 20 year peak.

Even last year, the Taliban were already controlling 50 to 70 per cent of rural areas in the country. 

America’s withdrawal ruptured the fragile security situation in the country – and emboldened the Taliban. 


Almost immediately after Joe Biden’s announcement, Taliban fighters stepped up their offensive – and started gaining ground. 

At first, they were seizing rural areas – their normal strongholds.

But there was a bigger strategy to it. They were taking the farming districts that surrounded key towns and cities. 

So the cities became these islands, marooned in the middle of Taliban territory.

That’s what happened in Kunduz.

A month or so ago, the Taliban started to get closer to the city, starting at the outskirts and moving slowly in.  

But seizing the city? That’s their boldest move yet.

And it signals something about their intentions.

Because Kunduz has a big significance for the Taliban….

It’s a prize they’ve won and lost before. 

The last time the Taliban seized Kunduz from government forces was in 2015. It was the first time they had taken a city since they were toppled by the Americans 14 years before.

In the end, the Taliban’s occupation of the city only lasted a fortnight. 

But what the attempted takeover signalled then was the same as now: the Taliban are aiming to take control of the north of the country. 


“Kunduz in Afghanistan is the most strategic province. We call it the warehouse of Afghanistan. It’s one of the strategic economic areas.”

Mohammed Omar Safi, BBC

That’s Mohammed Omar Saafi, he was once a governor of Kunduz, so he knows how important it is. 

Controlling Kunduz means controlling a major city and an economic hub. 

It’s on the key highway that links Kabul to the northeast of the country. So by seizing it, the Taliban has basically cut off the whole of the rest of the northeast too. 

And this time around, the Taliban will likely be staying much longer than a fortnight… 

Because one of the big things that helped the Afghan government drive them out back in 2015 was a series of American airstrikes.

The Americans certainly won’t be coming to their aid now…

So for families like Malika Bano’s, a return to Kunduz seems very, very far away.

Today’s episode was written and produced by Ella Hill.