Following months of skirmishes and pitched battles, the Taliban appears to be set to attack a key provincial capital in a northeastern province bordering Central Asia.
The Taliban overran the Dashti Archi district in the Kunduz province after heavy fighting on June 22. The attack follows the June 21 capture of another Kunduz district, Chardara.
The two districts surround the provincial capital also called Kunduz. The latest developments are seen as a tipping point in the fight for Kunduz--a strategic province separated by the Panj and Amu rivers from Tajikistan.
Hundreds of civilians, soldiers, and militants have died in skirmishes and pitched battles across the Province since late April. The Afghan Taliban and their Central Asian allies from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Islamic State militants have fought hard to assert control over key Kunduz districts, and have even taxed locals to press them into accepting their rule.
Afghan officials, lawmakers, and soldiers blame government failures such as the lack of support for frontline troops, insurgent infiltration of security forces, defections, and the excesses of anti-Taliban militias for the debacle in Kunduz.
Dashti Archi's district governor Nasiruddin Saadi told Radio Free Afghanistan that insurgents overran the district in the early hours of June 22 after attacking the district center from all directions.
"There were no government reinforcements, which led to the fall of the district center," he said. "The insurgents have already controlled 90 percent of Dashti Archi's territory for the past two years."
Mulavi Abdullah Qurluq, a Kunduz lawmaker in the Afghan Senate, blamed capitulation among Kunduz officials for the district's fall.
"The district police chief in Dashti Archi appears to have conspired with the Taliban, which led the district to fall," he said. "He appears to have first surrendered to the Taliban by giving them all their weapons and then fleeing to the neighboring Takhar province."
It was not possible to reach Dashti Archi's police chief for comments.
In Chardara, the lack of reinforcements eventually forced government soldiers to give up on June 20.
An Afghan army soldier, who requested anonymity, told Radio Free Afghanistan that they gave up after running out of ammunition and supplies.
"The fighting went uninterrupted for many days and nights," he said. "We ran out of ammunition and supplies, which forced us to retreat in haste. Some of our comrades are still there."
Former lawmaker Moen Marstiyal represented Kunduz in the lower house of the Afghan parliament. He told Radio Free Afghanistan that fighting among the illegal anti-Taliban militias has weakened government forces.
"Some of these groups have revived rivalries that go back to the civil war years of the 1990s," he said. "Their infighting prevents the government from putting up a joint front against the Taliban."
Written by Abubakar Siddique, based on reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Ajmal Aryan in Kunduz and Ahmad Takal in Prague.