Taliban changing strategy to seize Afghan city chokepoints
It comes as the US nears the halfway point of a troop withdrawal, ahead of President Biden's 11 September withdrawal date with fears that the Kabul administration will be unable to survive without international assistance.
"The fall of districts is nothing new, but the Taliban's attacks of select strategic districts in the southern and eastern provinces surrounding Kabul is significant," Tamim Asey, head of the Institute of War and Peace Studies, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Among a handful districts seized by the Taliban in May are Jalrez and Nerkh, in the province of Maidan Wardak which is 40km south of Kabul. Key highways to the country's central and southern provinces cut through the province.
The #Taliban took at least 4 more districts in May including Narkh district of the Maidan Wardak province near Kabul.— Shelly Kittleson (@shellykittleson) June 1, 2021
Some of the #Afghan negotiating team left to Doha today.Talks with the Taliban are expected to resume this week.
*I took this pic on a 2012 reporting trip there pic.twitter.com/gTf8gm3Xmx
"The Taliban has adopted a strategy of striking economic and military chokepoints around major Afghan cities. This is intended to cut off cities from the rest of the country and eventually seize them," said Asey.
The Taliban, which has more territory than at any other point since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, controls large parts of the countryside despite near-daily battles with government forces. Qatar has hosted negotiators from both sides but the so-called 'Afghan peace process' has stalled since September.
Recent clashes between the Taliban and Afghan government troops have ended in the seizure of military bases and district centers. In some cases the insurgents made gains "without firing a bullet", according to Asey.
"In a growing trend, the Taliban, with the help of local elders, has negotiated the surrender of hundreds of Afghan soldiers and national police in the provinces of Laghman, Maidan Wardak, and Baghlan," he said.
While government troops have reportedly complained about overdue salaries, munitions shortages and delayed aerial and ground support, victories for the Taliban allowed them to stock up on arms and equipment.