KUNDUZ, Afghanistan — Taliban forces were less than four miles from this strategic northern city Monday after seizing control of two key districts over the weekend, triggering fears that they could capture their first Afghan city since U.S.-backed forces toppled the hard-line Islamist regime in late 2001.
The government in Kabul has dispatched reinforcements, including Afghan special forces and their U.S. advisers and trainers, to try to repel the insurgents and rescue about 75 soldiers and police officers trapped inside their district base. But as of Monday evening, the Taliban remained in control of the districts, including one separated from Kunduz city only by a wide, brown river.
“It is a critical situation,” said Mohammad Omer Safi, the governor of Kunduz province.
Not since the Taliban’s collapse has the population of an Afghan metropolis faced such intimidation from the insurgency. Starting this spring, the Taliban has focused its efforts on gaining territory in Kunduz and other northern provinces, straying from its traditional battlefields in the south and east. Whoever controls Kunduz, a vast, rich agricultural region that was a former Taliban bastion, controls the roads to northeastern Afghanistan as well as smuggling and trade routes into neighboring Tajikistan and the rest of Central Asia.