The Taliban seized control of the city of Kunduz on 8 August, the fifth city to fall to the group since 6 August. The Taliban offensives against cities escalated as the group attempted to strengthen its negotiating position ahead of the withdrawal of foreign forces on 11 September 2021.
Earlier, the Afghan government and the Taliban had issued a joint statement following negotiations between the two sides in Doha, Qatar, on 18 July, noting that they had agreed to accelerate efforts towards political reconciliation. However, there was no indication of meaningful progress in intra-Afghan talks, which have largely stalled since they began in September 2020. Intra-Afghan negotiations are a critical component of an increasingly fluid situation in Afghanistan, driven by the impending deadline for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.
US and NATO withdrawal
The 11 September deadline increasingly appears to be symbolic, with the United States and NATO having accelerated their withdrawal since US President Joe Biden announced a delay to the timeline in April 2021. Key bases, including Bagram Air Base, have been vacated and full withdrawal is likely to be completed by the end of August. Given Biden’s strong conviction that US military objectives in the country – specifically to prevent attacks against US territory – have been achieved and that nation-building is unlikely to succeed, another extension to the withdrawal deadline is highly unlikely.
A few hundred US military personnel remain in Kabul. The US government’s lack of a formal announcement of the completion of the withdrawal ahead of schedule is likely intended to avoid exacerbating already low levels of morale within the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).