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Taliban Fighters Overrun Northern Afghanistan City of Kunduz


The Taliban has overtaken its first major city in Afghanistan today. The northern city of Kunduz is a major commercial hub on the border with Tajikistan. This is the third provincial capital this week to have fallen from the Afghan government's hands. Government forces have been unable to stop the Taliban's advance as the U.S. nears the end of its 20-year military presence in the country. Ali Latifi is a journalist in Kabul. He joins me now. Welcome to the program.

ALI LATIFI: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is happening in Kunduz?

LATIFI: What's happening in Kunduz right now is very similar to what's been happening in Zaranj and Sheberghan over the last few days, the other two provincial capitals that the Taliban took - and that basically, you know, we're getting reports from the Taliban saying that they've entered major government compounds and police headquarters and the prisons and all of these sort of essential parts of these cities. But the government has remained very quiet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You are in Kabul. What is the feeling there? I mean, does it feel like a city under siege?

LATIFI: It feels like a city grappling with fear. Obviously, the big fear is that they come to Kabul at some point. It could be a civil war or if, somehow, miraculously, the peace talks work out, and then there's some kind of a political settlement. But people are very afraid to take that chance.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk about those peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. What is going on with them? And do they look like they might provide a political solution?

LATIFI: That's what they were intended for. But if you look at what's been going on, the Taliban has repeatedly broken their deal with the U.S. government because part of the deal was that they would not attack major provincial capitals. And at the same time, the U.S. has restarted aerial campaign deliberately against the Taliban, which was also something that was part of that agreement. So now the question is whether or not the Taliban and the government will take that peace talk seriously.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does the Taliban want by pushing forward with this offensive? Are they trying to sort of create facts on the ground and momentum so that they have the upper hand in these negotiations? Or are the negotiations simply a fiction, and they're going to try and take over the country?

LATIFI: No one knows for certain. But I think the Taliban taking more and more ground works in their favor. If they want, you know, a complete military takeover, well, then it's just making their way across the map. And if they're looking for leverage in these negotiations, well, they can easily say, in three days, we captured three of your provincial capitals.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is the feeling towards the United States? It invaded Afghanistan 20 years ago following the September 11 attacks. They are now really wrapping up this military incursion. What do people feel about how things have been left?

LATIFI: They basically feel the way they felt for a long time now - that, you know, the U.S. and the Western powers were not acting in good faith here. They were being disingenuous with their words. They talked a lot about things like democracy and human rights and advancement and all of these things. And very few of them actually came to pass. And now with them leaving the way they did, it'a basically shown that, you know, the U.S. never had a genuine interest here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's journalist Ali Latifi in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thank you very much.

LATIFI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRIAN ENO'S "THROUGH HOLLOW LANDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.