Taliban races to take full control of Afghanistan, inching closer to Kabul

Taliban insurgents tightened their grip on Afghanistan on Friday, seizing the second- and third-biggest cities and raising fears that an assault on the capital Kabul could be just days away. A senior U.S. defence official said there was concern that the Islamist group, in power from 1996-2001, could make a move on Kabul in days, but Washington was hoping the Afghan security forces would put up more resistance as the insurgents move closer to the capital. The capture of Kandahar in the south and Herat in the west after days of clashes is a devastating setback for the government as the Taliban advances turn into a rout. While the Taliban have made extraordinary gains in a very brief period of time, Ashley Jackson, Co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at the Overseas Development Institute, affirms that "there has been fierce resistance (from Afghan forces), particularly in some of the besieged cities (such as) Kandahar and Lashkar." To shed some light on the Taliban's lightening-speed offensive, Ms. Jackson explains: "The Afghan government simply hasn't had a coherent strategy. The Taliban has stretched them across these cities, but they haven't managed to muster a means of fighting back. They've fallen into the Taliban's trap, rather than making strategic decisions which would help them protect the major hubs like Kandahar, like Herat which we have seen fall in the past day." In a scathing account of the two-decade war in Afghanistan, Ms. Jackson observes that "Since May, the international community really hasn't had it's act together in terms of pressuring the Taliban because they didn't see this as a possibility. They underestimated profoundly the Taliban, and that's been a mistake for the past 20 years." Ashley Jackson is also an associate with the Conflict, Security and Development Research Group at King's College London. And she is author of 'Negotiating Survival: Civilian-Insurgent Relations in Afghanistan.'