By Michael Cruickshank, @MJ_Cruickshank
Fierce fighting with the Taliban has forced Afghan troops to withdraw from many areas of Uruzgan Province. Following a large Taliban attack over the last few days, Afghan National Army (ANA) and local police units reportedly retreated to the province’s capital, Tarin Kowt.
This retreat and consolidation however has not managed to stop the advance of the Taliban, with fighting being reported within the city proper. According to Reuters, fighting is now underway within several hundred meters of the government compound. As well, the local leaders had reportedly fled to the relative safety of a military-held airbase on the edge of the city.
With the fall of Tarin Kowt to the Taliban imminent, the Afghan Government has dispatched Kandahar's police chief General Raziq to the city to reportedly lead an operation to oust the militants from the city, and stabilize this precarious situation. The city, and Uruzgan Province itself, sits on a key area for the cultivation of poppy seeds, long used by the Taliban to fund insurgency through the heroin trade.
Should the city fall, it will be second provincial capital in Afghanistan to be taken by the Taliban, following Kunduz last year. Kunduz, the capital of the province of the same name, was briefly held by the Taliban, before being swiftly recaptured. Nonetheless, the fact that the Taliban is now able to regularly threaten provincial capitals proves the increasing strength of the group, as well as the relative weakness of the ANA and the Karzai Government.
Since Coalition troops withdrew in significant numbers from the country, the security situation has deteriorated. More and more districts continue to fall to the Taliban, and attacks in the capital Kabul have become a weekly (if not daily) occurrence. While the collapse of the central government is far from imminent, should the Taliban take and hold a provincial capital, it would be a serious blow to the Kabul government’s legitimacy.