KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Weak leadership, misuse of resources and lack of coordination between Afghan security services were the main reasons a strategic northern city briefly fell to the Taliban, the head of an investigative team said Saturday.
Without U.S. air support, government forces would have been unable to take back the city of Kunduz, said Amrullah Saleh, head of the investigating team and a former intelligence agency chief.
Taliban gunmen overran Kunduz, capital of the province of the same name, on Sept. 28. They held the city for three days before a government counter-offensive was launched. It took two weeks for troops to bring the city back under government control.
Saleh's investigation into Kunduz is the first to release results to the public, in the form of a 30-page summary. The investigators were appointed by President Ashraf Ghani, and submitted their full 200-page report a month ago.
The report says that army, police and intelligence agency soldiers left their posts as the Taliban advanced on the city. The large-scale desertion enabled the insurgents to enter the city almost unopposed.
The government held Kunduz airport and the adjacent military barracks, where many of the deserters, as well as city officials, fled for safety.
Kunduz is a strategic city on the northern Afghan plain. It sits on a national crossroads that connects to every border, including Tajikistan to the north. It is a major wheat-producing region, as well as a nexus for smuggling routes for drugs, weapons and alcohol, officials have said.
Taliban-led insurgents had been massing around Kunduz for the past year, and had tried on at least three earlier occasions to take the city of 300,000. Officials have said the Taliban absorbed other insurgents groups for the Kunduz assault, notably members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
At a press conference, Saleh pointed to the "influence of a number of individuals" working against government interests in the city, including wealthy businessmen, local warlords and senior officials "in whose interests it was to ensure the government remained weak." He referred to these groups as "grey networks."
"The collapse of Kunduz city was not due simply to a Taliban assault, it had been in the planning stages for over a year," he said.
He also blamed Pakistani authorities for supporting the Taliban as they assaulted Kunduz. Pakistan is widely believed to give safe haven to leaders of the insurgent group.
The report says that Afghanistan's intelligence service had recorded telephone conversations between Taliban leaders in Kunduz and unnamed "individuals in the Taliban base of Peshawar," across the border in Pakistan.
Pakistan has denied involvement in the Kunduz assault. The brief capture of the city was widely seen as a victory for the new leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, who took control in August after the announcement of the death of the group's founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
The report said the Taliban's change of leadership had no effect on the assault, as the operation had been planned long in advance. On the first day of the assault, the insurgents seized 37 government armored vehicles, weapons and ammunition, it said.