Wednesday, September 30, 2015

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U.S. - Kevin McCarthy’s comments about Benghazi should trouble Republicans

By Chris Cillizza

House Republicans are in the midst of a coronation of California Congressman Kevin McCarthy as the next Speaker of the House. McCarthy's comments about the motives of the House select committee investigating the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on Tuesday night, however, should give the party pause about whether he's totally ready for the big job.
Prodded repeatedly by conservative Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity to name an accomplishment for the Republican-led Congress, McCarthy seized on the Benghazi committee and its investigation into Hillary Clinton's role (or lack thereof) in the handling of the incident during her time as secretary of state.
"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" McCarthy told Hannity. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought."
Remember that John Boehner, the man McCarthy will replace as speaker, has spent the past year — the committee was created in May 2014 — defending it as a search for the truth of what happened Sept. 11, 2012, and not a political witch hunt aimed at dinging Clinton, who remains the likely Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.
"Four Americans died at the hands of terrorists nearly 20 months ago, and we are still missing answers, accountability and justice," Boehner said when he created the committee. "It’s time that changed.”
While McCarthy isn't directly contradicting Boehner's past justifications for the Benghazi committee, he quite clearly is painting the committee's work in a political light and tying the committee's work to Clinton's poll slippage. While anyone with a brain would have concluded a while ago that the Benghazi committee wasn't solely about policy, having the man who is about to be the next speaker of the Republican-controlled House say exactly that is not smart. At all.
It hearkens back somewhat to 2012, when the Republican Pennsylvania House majority leader said that a Voter ID law the state legislature had passed would help Mitt Romney carry the state in that year's election. Democrats have long argued that Voter ID is a thinly veiled attempt to disenfranchise African Americans and other Democratic-leaning voters, and the comment lent plenty credence to that argument.
It's unlikely that McCarthy's slip-up will stop his ascension to the top post. But it does raise two important points that should give Republicans in the House — and outside of it — some doubt about McCarthy.
The first is that being speaker is not sort-of-the-same as being majority leader (McCarthy's current job) or majority whip (the job McCarthy held until last summer).  You are not the man standing next to the man or the man standing next to the man standing next to the man. You are the man. What you say gets endlessly parsed by reporters and picked apart by your political rivals — both those in the other party and those in your party. You can't get flustered. You can't blurt. You can't get bullied by a talk show host.
The second is that McCarthy's rise to the top job has been remarkably rapid. As Philip Bump wrote in this space earlier in the week, McCarthy would be the least-experienced speaker of the House in more than 100 years.

Some — including many in the tea party caucus — will say that McCarthy's lack of experience in both Congress (since 2007) and in leadership (since 2009) is a good thing. Less time to be corrupted and co-opted. But McCarthy's comments to Hannity suggest the downside of inexperience. You can't just say stuff — especially stuff that contradicts a long-held talking point of the current speaker and hands Democrats a cudgel to beat your side up with.
Coronations in politics rarely work out. (See Clinton, Hillary.) Competition, it turns out, is often a very good thing. Republicans may well look back at the failure to even consider a serious challenge to McCarthy as a missed opportunity to put the Californian through his paces before giving him the biggest job of his career.

Hillary Clinton: Republicans' Benghazi committee strategy 'deeply distressing'

Kevin McCarthy’s admission that House committee was used to hurt Clinton’s presidential prospects ‘dishonors everybody who has served our country’
A day after a top Republican touted the impact on Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers of a congressional probe into the 2012 Benghazi attacks, the former secretary of state condemned the comments as “deeply distressing”. House majority leader Kevin McCarthy said in an interview Tuesday night that the House select committee on Benghazi was part of a Republican “strategy to fight and win”. “And let me give you one example,” McCarthy said. “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.” Clinton responded sharply to McCarthy’s comments in an interview with Al Sharpton to air Sunday morning on MSNBC’s PoliticsNation.

“When I hear a statement like that, which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan political exercise, I feel like it does a grave disservice and dishonors not just the memory of the four that we lost, but of everybody who has served our country,” Clinton said, according to a transcript of the interview. US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed when militants attacked a US diplomatic outpost and CIA operations center in Benghazi, Libya, on 11 September, 2012. Clinton was secretary of state at the time. Republicans in Congress accuse her of failing to do enough to prevent the attack, of mishandling it afterward and of seeking to cover up her supposed mistakes. The mission of the select committee on Benghazi has ostensibly been to explore those charges, but Democrats have accused Republicans of mounting a taxpayer-funded fishing expedition. McCarthy appeared to admit as much in the Tuesday interview, with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
“I have to tell you, I find them deeply distressing,” Clinton said of the remarks in her MSNBC interview. “I knew the ambassador that we lost in Benghazi. Along with him, we lost three other brave Americans who were representing us in a very dangerous part of the world.
“There have already been eight investigations in the Congress. One independent investigation. We have learned all we can learn about what we need to do to protect our diplomats and our other civilians and we need to be enforcing and implementing those changes, which is what I started and what Secretary [John] Kerry has continued.
Clinton also had sharp words for Republicans who questioned Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards in a committee hearing Tuesday. The women’s health organization has been at the center of a political firestorm, with Republicans threatening to shut down the government in an effort to defund the group. That threat proved empty Wednesday, as the House passed a resolution to continue federal spending levels.
“The Republicans bullied and demeaned Cecile Richards personally in her appearance for more than five hours before their committee,” Clinton told Sharpton. “They dismissed the important work that Planned Parenthood has done for many years helping to treat millions of American women.
“And they clearly were, you know, showing contempt for women’s health and the kinds of personal concerns that women bring to making very difficult decisions about their health and their choice.”

Column: No, pundits, Hillary Clinton isn't collapsing

Has the political pundit class lost its collective mind?  
In a year in which every other supposed front-runner and establishment candidate has collapsed to single digits or has already withdrawn from the race — yes, I am talking about you, Jeb Bush, and you, Scott Walker — Hillary Rodham Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field with more than 40 percent of the vote. Can Bernie Sanders, who is 15 points behind her in recent polling, represent a real threat to her nomination? No. Hell no. Not a chance. But pundits keep asking the question without pointing out the obvious answer.
And given the fact that no vice president who has sought his party's nomination has ever been denied it, you would think Clinton's 20-point lead over Joe Biden would be seen as a remarkable sign of strength. Instead, when pundits mention Clinton's lead over the vice president, they always follow up with the fact that Biden has yet to enter officially — and rarely caution that he may never enter it and that even if he does, he'll start 20 points behind.
When has anyone been so strong that he or she led a sitting vice president by 20 points? Does the punditry really think it's because he hasn't announced yet?
Was the private server a mistake? Yes. Have questions about Clinton's emails hurt her? Of course. Has her campaign been clumsy and mishandled the situation? No doubt about it. But there should also be no doubt that Clinton remains a formidable front-runner who will be tough to beat even if Biden enters the race. And she'll be formidable in the general election, too.
If the GOP wasn't convinced that she could block their path to the White House in November 2016, they wouldn't be trying so hard to stop her right now. If they thought her knees would buckle and she was really going to collapse — if they thought she would be a breeze to defeat —they would hold their fire until she was the Democratic nominee.
Things the pundits seem to have missed:
Clinton's 2008 campaign made the fatal error of writing off caucus states as unimportant. She came in third in Iowa and barely reached 30 percent of the vote there. In total, caucus states cost her 100 delegates in a race she lost to Barack Obama by fewer than 300. The fact is her campaign will not make that mistake again. Clinton has recruited the best caucus organizers in the Democratic Party. She will be stronger in Iowa and gain far more delegates in caucus states in 2016.
Like it or not, pundits, it's a better campaign this time around and far more organized.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in the "Hillary is collapsing" storyline is the complete underestimation of her strength beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, in more ethnically diverse states. In 2008, Obama proved early on that he could win his fair share of the progressive white vote; then he dominated Clinton with nonwhites across the rest of the country. And yet he still lost the popular vote (if you include Michigan, where he wasn't on the ballot) and won the delegate count only by the slimmest of margins.
To believe that Sanders or even Biden can defeat Clinton, you have to believe they can run as well against her (after the first two contests) as Obama did. The obstacles to pulling that off are significant.
First, 56 percent of Democratic voters are women, who prefer Clinton to her rivals. And unlike Obama, who held Clinton to just 20 percent of the nonwhite vote through much of 2008, Sanders is trailing Clinton by 40 to 60 points among nonwhite Democrats. Pundits seem to enjoy questioning Clinton's ability to energize the Obama coalition, but Sanders hasn't been able to get out of the teens in terms of support among blacks or Latinos. Biden fares better, but he's not Obama either.
The pundits say this is an outsider year and that voters from both parties are frustrated. And yet Clinton leads Sanders and Biden nationally in every poll. She has problems that she needs to address, of course, but look across the aisle at the GOP field and find a nominee who doesn't. Good luck.
The pundits have it wrong. Unless or until Biden decides to run, Clinton doesn't face much of a challenge. And if Biden does run, Clinton is still going to be very tough to beat.

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The Saudi royal family is protecting VIPs while letting ordinary pilgrims die

Vijay Prashad

    Why don't they spend some of their oil wealth on making the Hajj safe, rather than wasting it on a cruel and futile war in Yemen?
    Saudi Arabia began its bombing of Yemen at the end of March. The assault continues. Every UN agency has lit the red light of caution – Yemen is a humanitarian catastrophe. Firm numbers of dead and wounded are hard to come by. The UN estimates that over 2100 civilians have been killed. That every Yemeni is in danger of death is clear.
    In the UN Human Rights Council, the Netherlands called for an official investigation of the bombing in Yemen. But Saudi Arabia, with US backing, has preempted the Dutch resolution. The Saudis want the UN to provide technical assistance to the Yemeni authorities that they back. This is a deft maneuver to block any investigation of Saudi atrocities in Yemen. The US has rearmed Saudi Arabia during the carnage. It is implicated in the civilian deaths. No wonder there will be no UN mission to Yemen.
    While the negotiations in Geneva continued and while Yemen burned, two columns of Hajj pilgrims ran into each other in Mina, Saudi Arabia, on the first day of the Id al-Adha. The Saudi royal family, known as the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, is responsible for the well-being of pilgrims who come on what has become the largest annual migration.
    These columns ran into each other because the police blocked off key roads. These roads are intended to manage congestion. At least a thousand pilgrims died in the ensuing stampede.
    Tragedies during Hajj
    Why were these roads blocked? Early indications suggest that the authorities had closed the roads to facilitate VIP pilgrims. So much of Mecca, like Saudi Arabia in general, is designed for the VIP and the VVIP. The Custodian favours the powerful. It is they who go ahead in the queue. Construction across Mecca, as Ziauddin Sardar shows in his powerful new book Mecca: The Sacred City, is geared toward the wealthy. An “eruption of architectural bling” has inflicted the “barren valley” of Mecca.
    Corruption is rife, so is neglect. In 1990, almost 1500 people were killed in a stampede near the very spot of this tragedy. The deaths came in a punctual fashion – 1994, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006. A few weeks ago, a crane fell into the Masjid al-Haram, killing over a hundred people. Are these deaths a natural facet of massive pilgrimages or are they indications of systematic disdain for the lives of ordinary people?
    The Saudis are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their futile war on Yemen. There is no political endgame and no sign of any military breakthrough. The only thing that has occurred is the further impoverishment of the poorest country in the Arab world. The oil wealth is being squandered on ill-fated military and diplomatic adventures.
    Far better perhaps to use that oil wealth on making the Hajj as safe as possible not for the VIPs alone, but for the millions who save money over decades to make this holiest journey to the place toward which they pray.

    ‘Turkey’s media crackdown is due to a simple reason: Gov’t has things to hide’

    The government crackdown on Turkish media outlets, which has hit an alarming level over the past year, has one simple reason: The government has been trying to cover up its wrongdoings, according to academic Gökhan Bacık, who gave the keynote address at the panel discussion “Democracy in Crisis: Media Censorship inTurkey” held on Tuesday by the Niagara Foundation at Loyola University Chicago.
    Bacık, who teaches at İpek University and writes columns for Today's Zaman, stated that Turkey is currently receiving the most serious criticism on democratic issues it has been given from the European Commission within the past seven years. Bacık pointed out the increasing trend of journalists being jailed even for social media posts under the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) article involving “insulting the president,” a notion the academic argued is legally questionable itself.
    Recalling that four reporters were detained in June by the police after asking the governor of Şanlıurfa province whether there are members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the province, Bacık concludes: “The media is under pressure in Turkey for the same reasons why it is in other countries, whether it be the Democratic Republic of Congo or Uzbekistan. It is because the government simply has things to hide; because there is something wrong.” Bacık clarifies that corruption, mass violations of human rights and negative changes in the economy can all lead governments to oppress the media. As for the specific example of Turkey, Bacık listed corruption and failures in the economy and foreign policy as reasons for the government's crackdown on the media.
    “We have some political leaders who cannot retire or make happy retirement plans in the long term,” Bacık said, adding: “This has become a matter of survival for them. If you have politicians who cannot retire, this means they are thinking, ‘If I retire, some people may knock on my door because I did something in foreign policy,' maybe in Syria or they got involved in corruption, and so on. There have been similar examples in Tunisia and Egypt.”
    Bacık also touched on 2014's two-week Twitter blackout, which was introduced after the widespread circulation of wiretapped phone conversations supporting corruption allegations centering around then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his inner circle. The academic noted that the average Turkish person has now become an expert on how to bypass filters on the Internet because of similar government interventions in social media.
    Along with its efforts to suppress the media, the Turkish government has created its own “loyal media,” according to Bacık, who gave the example of last week's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) caucus having been broadcast for nine hours by state television.
    With regards to the deteriorating condition of freedom of speech in Turkey, Bacık said, “Now, crackdowns have become the norm and freedom of speech is an exception,” stressing how Turkey's political and social culture, as well as its judiciary, failed in the first place to internalize the concept of press freedom. “There is no strong tradition of media freedom for the Turkish judiciary. Turkish judges and prosecutors do not care about it. A typical Turkish prosecutor asks, “Are you a communist?” or “What ideology do you support?” or “Are you an enemy?” This is a typical way of thinking in Middle Eastern culture. They prefer stability and security over freedom. The prosecutor thinks that he is defending the state,” Bacık said. He added that prior to the rule of the AK Party, Turkish judicial bodies served the interests of the state as well, this time by basing their rulings on “secularism” instead of justice, democracy and global values.
    Stating that this is the first time Turkish society is facing problems at the hands of a popularly elected Islamist government, Bacık defined the situation as an “opportunity” in the long term for Turkey to test Islamism. According to him, Turkey has moved from “secular, bureaucratic authoritarianism” to “popular, Islamist authoritarianism.” Bacık emphasized that in the early years of the AK Party government, a majority of Turks saw a democratic future, adding, “Good guys cannot bring democracy without institutional transformation; it would collapse eventually.”


    ‘You don't get killed but you get demonized in Turkey'

    Another guest speaker at the “Democracy in Crisis: Media Censorship in Turkey” panel discussion was Today's Zaman correspondent Mahir Zeynalov, who was deported from Turkey in February 2014 after he was accused of insulting Erdoğan on Twitter. Commenting on the Turkish government's current domination over a large number of media outlets, Zeynalov said: “If you control the TV media, you actually control the country, and the Turkish government is doing a terrific job of doing that. Erdoğan is an enemy of the media, this is true, but he also understands that he needs to co-opt the media in some ways to build his own loyalist media so that he can move forward with his agenda.”
    Referring to Erdoğan's conviction in 1998 for reciting a poem in a political speech in which he likened mosque minarets to bayonets, Zeynalov stated that Erdoğan pressed charges against him under the same article of the TCK due to a tweet.
    “Unlike Iran, Russia or China, people do not get killed for being dissidents in Turkey but instead, they get demonized through smear campaigns,” according to Zeynalov, who gave the example of Erdoğan describing acclaimed journalist Amberin Zaman as a “militant woman” in a public speech. Noting that there are many such instances, Zeynalov told about a pro-government newspaper publishing his picture on its front page with the headline “Turkey, beware of this traitor,” right after it was publicized that Erdoğan had filed criminal a complaint against him. “This is a very effective way of silencing the media,” Zeynalov said. He also pointed out that his employer Today's Zaman has resisted government pressure and has not fired anyone from its staff, even though it has received threats.

    Video - Palestinian flag raised at the UN headquarters

    China sees political dialogue as the only way to settle the Syrian crisis

    China urges the UN Security Council to look into the possibility of discussing convocation of Geneva-3 conference on the Syrian settlement without preconditions and with participation of all interested parties, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a UN SC session on Wednesday, referring to another United Nations-backed peace conference on Syria.
    China saw a political dialogue as the only way to settle the Syrian crisis, the foreign minister said, noting the need to ensure participation of all interested parties. The foreign minister said "the golden mean should observed" in tackling that problem.
    The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, earlier announced the setting up of working (expert) groups to advance preparations for Geneva-3 international conference.
    Experts will begin their work in Geneva early in October, focusing on four directions: security and fight against terrorism, political and constitutional reforms, humanitarian situation and the process of economic restoration.

    Lavrov: Differences With US Remain, But Both Want Democratic, United Syria

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed that a democratic and united Syria is the ultimate goal, following a discussion with US counterpart John Kerry at the UN on Wednesday evening.

    "We all want Syria democratic, united, secular; Syria which is a home for all ethnic and confessional groups, whose rights are guaranteed," Lavrov said. "But we have some differences as for the details on how to get there."
    "But we agreed on some steps which we will undertake very soon…"
    Lavrov also said that he and Kerry discussed the importance of coordination between the US and Russian military to avoid unintended incidents in Syrian airspace.
    "The first instruction to us was to make sure that the military of the United States – the coalition led by the United States on the one hand – and the military of the Russian Federation – now engaged in some operations at the request of the Syrian government – get in touch and establish channels of communication to avoid any unintended incidents,” he said.
    Kerry described the meeting as "constructive," and stated Washington's concern about the targets of the Russian airstrikes.

    "We agreed on the imperative…of having a military-to-military deconfliction meeting," Kerry said.

    "We also agreed that it is imperative to find a solution to this conflict and to avoid escalating it in any way or seeing it intensified by forces beyond anybody's control."
    Moscow began conducting airstrikes against the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group on Wednesday, carrying out roughly 20 operations.
    "As a result of airstrikes, ammunition and fuel depots, heavy military hardware, as well as command posts in the mountainous areas have been destroyed," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement. 

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    With Kunduz Under Siege, Afghanistan Is Again at a Crossroads

    The fall of the important northern city of Kunduz spells trouble for Ashraf Ghani’s government.

    Yesterday, the Northern Afghan city of Kunduz fell to the Taliban. This is some of the worst news to emerge from Afghanistan since the of the 14- year old conflict between the Taliban and the western-backed Afghan national government.
    In 2001, Kunduz was the last Taliban bastion to fall to the Northern Alliance, symbolizing the final liberation of the country. The recapture of the city demonstrates the resurgence of the Taliban. It is a signal that the insurgents are no longer just lurking in the background, but have the capacity to take the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) head on.
    The fall of Kunduz coincides with the one year-anniversary of the National Unity Government under the leadership of President Ashraf Ghani. The new regime was elected on the promise to improve security throughout the country, but the loss of Kunduz will undoubtedly deal a major blow to the prestige of the new government.
    “The fall of Kunduz was a failure of both national and international leadership. Unfortunately, the government in Kabul is not taking responsibility for it. I am sure it will impact the National Unity Government very deeply,” says Kabul-based political expert, Haroon Mir, in an interview with The Diplomat.
    With each passing hour, the government’s ability to deal with the Taliban threat is more in doubt. It’s now been more than twenty-four hours since the Taliban occupied the city. Reinforcements from the ANSF stationed in neighboring provinces and the capital Kabul have not yet been able to reach Kunduz, due to IED attacks and ambushes by the insurgent group. Kunduz airport, to where most of the city’s administration and military personnel has withdrawn, is also under attack.
    “The Taliban will not be able to hold Kunduz in the face of the large-scale military reinforcements, but the recovery of the city will not return stability and normality to the region. The damage to the reputation of the government has already been done,” says Mir. Sher Shah Nawabi, a Kunduz-based journalist, says that “the local inhabitants are in a state of shock and feel betrayed by the government for allowing the Taliban to capture the city.”
    The coalition government’s credibility is at an all-time low after the fall of Kunduz. The city is strategically located, serving as an important gateway to northern Afghanistan and neighboring Tajikistan. Many Afghans see the current situation as a reminder of the bloody decade of the 1990s. After the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, the country was eventually overrun by the Taliban, despite the best efforts of the Kremlin-backed government of Mohammad Najibullah. The fall of Kunduz represents an unpleasant reminder of that period; not a year after the departure of the International Security Assistance Force, an important city has fallen to extremist insurgents.
    Can the Taliban repeat this success in other cities as well? Until recently, people believed that the Taliban, while a dangerous nuisance in the countryside, would not be able to take control of any major city. That certainty is gone. Suddenly, the Taliban looks like a viable and strong opposition which can take on the ANSF in a conventional battle and win.
    This is bad news for the morale of the Afghan National Army (ANA), which is supposed to be providing overarching security to the country. There are doubts as to whether the training and equipment provided by ISAF is up to the standards necessary to fight the Taliban. There is a real fear that the Taliban victory in Kunduz will cause an increase in recruitment to the insurgency.
    The fall of Kunduz symbolizes that the Taliban has rallied since the death of its former supreme leader, Mullah Omar. Despite rumors that Omar was assassinated by supporters of the new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the organization appears to have regained momentum. “Their victory in Kunduz is a much-needed boost to the Taliban. There has been some speculation that the organization experienced an internal power struggle due to the transition in their leadership,” explains Mir. “This will provide the new leadership with legitimacy and prove that the Taliban is still a group is still a force to be reckoned with, despite the death of Omar.”
    When Ghani was elected president last year, it was hailed as the first democratic transition of power in the history of Afghanistan. However, the new leadership has so far proved to be as powerless as its predecessor in preventing further violence in the embattled nation. It will be a huge challenge for both the people of Afghanistan and the international community to stem the resurgence of the Taliban.
    Afghanistan is once again at a crossroads of history.

    AFGHANISTAN - What led to the fall of Kunduz?

    As Afghan forces try to retake the center of Kunduz from the Taliban, DW examines the factors that led to the city's capture and the extent to which this affects the balance of power in the conflict-ridden country.
    A day after Taliban insurgents overran the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, government forces have launched a counter-offensive aimed at retaking the first provincial capital in the South Asian nation to fall to the Islamic extremists since they were ousted from power in a US-led invasion 14 years ago.
    The fall of Kunduz, which had been encircled by the insurgents for several months, is a major setback for Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and the administration of President Ashraf Ghani, and reflects the resilience of a group that has stepped up its offensive since the end of the ISAF mission in an attempt to seize new territory and discredit the Afghan government.
    It also highlights the more troubling development that the insurgents have the capability to expand their area of operations by planning and executing coordinated offensives.
    What remains to be seen, however, is the degree to which the group can defend its territorial gains as the Taliban have yet to hold large population centers for a significant amount of time after driving out Afghan security forces.
    What led to the fall?
    Media reports quoting Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the hardline Islamist movement, said the insurgents had launched a surprise, three-pronged offensive before dawn, and that by evening they had captured the entire city. They also took over the prison and freed 500 inmates, including their fighters.
    But as Jason Campbell explains, the capture of Kunduz - one of the Taliban's last holdouts prior to their overthrow in 2001 - was not the result of a one-time offensive, but of a concerted effort on the part of the insurgents.

    The international security expert at the US-based RAND Corporation told DW that many of the city's districts had already been contested for years, and that the insurgents were bolstered in 2014 when fighters fleeing Pakistan's military offensive in North Waziristan crossed into neighboring Afghanistan

    Indeed, intense fighting around Kunduz between April and June alone caused 176 civilian casualties (36 deaths and 140 injured), of which 64 percent resulted from the operations of pro-government forces countering the Taliban advance, said the United Nations."Thus, for over a year now a mix of Afghan and foreign fighters primarily from Pakistan and Central Asia have been gaining ground and threatening to push through government defenses into Kunduz city," said the expert.
    The UN is now seeking to verify reports that at least 110 civilians were killed and injured as a result of the latest round of fighting. "We fear that many more civilians may be harmed if fighting continues over the next few days," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein in a statement.
    Another contributing factor is the very complex human terrain in the province. Campbell explains that in numerous areas where there is a majority Pashtun population, disaffection with the government runs high and insurgent groups have had success resonating with the locals. "Countering these threats has been not only the ANSF, but also a patchwork of quasi-official and informal armed militia groups who in some instances are led by former anti-Taliban warlords," he said.
    This is why some observers say the takeover of Kunduz is more a failure of the Afghan state than a victory for the Taliban.
    "The Taliban did not come out of nowhere to take over Kunduz. Their fighters had been there for quite some time launching small-scale attacks on the city. This was meant to be a war of attrition against Afghan forces that would in turn pave the way for a full-scale offensive. And that's exactly what happened," Michael Kugelman, Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, told DW.
    Security issues
    This, in turn, has turned the spotlight on the issues afflicting the NATO-trained ANSF, which this year took over full security responsibility of a country still plagued by conflict and a resurgent insurgency.
    Afghanistan Gegenoffensive nach Einnahme Kundus durch Taliban
    Afghan forces are 'fundamentally unable to qualitatively improve the situation on the ground,' said Hamid
    While Afghan forces have been successful in driving the Taliban out, and may well do this again in Kunduz, "fundamentally they are unable to qualitatively improve the situation on the ground," Omar Hamid, Head of Asia Pacific Country Risk at global analytics firm IHS, told DW.
    The Afghan armed forces have long been ravaged by high desertion rates, and experts fear that the latest developments in the north of the country could well lead even more troops to throw in the towel.
    "They have made many improvements in recent years, but they still suffer from incapacities, and particularly in the areas of logistics, air cover, and intelligence collection. The Kunduz experience underscores a whole new level of vulnerability for the Afghan military," said Kugelman.
    The fall of Kunduz also shows that without the participation of coalition forces in combat operations, the ANSF are spread too thin throughout the country to adequately address all of the pressing security vulnerabilities. In fact, in a bid to assist the Afghan forces' campaign to retake Kunduz, US military planes have struck Taliban positions on the outskirts of the city.
    In view of this development, security analyst Campbell argues that Afghan officials will now have to weigh the risks of deploying forces away from other contested areas in the east and south against losing a major city to insurgent forces.
    A key city
    The city of Kunduz is not only of symbolic but also of strategic importance. It serves as a gateway to northern Afghanistan as it sits on the primary east-west road connecting the north of the country as well as the main north-south road connecting Kabul with neighboring Tajikistan in Central Asia.
    "Taliban control of such a transport hub creates a significant logistical disconnect for the Afghan government and provides direct access to smuggling routes to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to the north," said Campbell.
    Moreover, as analyst Kugelman explains, Central Asia has spawned a number of Taliban-allied terror groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which have established a presence in and around Kunduz over the past few years. "The presence of these 'Taliban friends' certainly helped put the group in a position to take over Kunduz," he said.
    The fallout
    Experts argue that reports of Taliban fighters looting, taking government vehicles and arms and freeing prisoners suggest they don't intend or expect to hold Kunduz for long. But as analyst Hamid points out, two things have already become clear: the government still has no clear strategy on how to defeat them, and the Taliban's area of operations is expanding, meaning that they are no longer restricted to just the south and east of the country.
    But perhaps more importantly, the biggest damage is political as pressure increases on the government in Kabul. The capture of Kunduz will not only add to the sense of unease about the Taliban's advances, but also sharpen the sentiment against the one-year-old national unity government which has yet to fill out its cabinet.
    "Afghans will certainly conclude that a government that can't pull off basic forms of governance is in no position to mount an effective response against am emboldened insurgency," said Kugelman. At the same time, the Kunduz seizure - coupled with the ANSF's struggle to contain the Taliban - could strengthen the insurgents' leverage and compel the Afghan government to limp back to the negotiation table in an effort to end the insurgency.
    There is also mounting pressure on the security front as experts argue that retaking and subsequently holding a city like Kunduz will require Afghanistan's leaders to make some hard choices regarding the level of resources they can devote without risking a similar collapse elsewhere.
    A three-way power struggle?
    And then there is the expanding role of IS militants in the country which, according to IHS security analyst Hamid, will increase the likelihood that the conflict will turn into a three-way fight between IS, the Afghan government and the Taliban.
    Afghanistan Polizei Kampf gegen Taliban nach Einnahme Kundus
    Kunduz city is not only of symbolic but also of strategic importance as it serves as a gateway to northern Afghanistan
    Hamid argues that while the Taliban have made clear their opposition to IS, internal dissension within the group leading up to peace talks with Kabul - and further exacerbated after the announcement of Mullah Omar's death - has led to significant numbers of militants defecting to IS. In fact, on September 26, Afghan media said that a UN report claimed IS was now active in 25 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
    Another indicator of IS' growing significance in the Afghan conflict came over the weekend, when 300 IS militants in Nangarhar province launched coordinated attacks against several government checkpoints, said IHS.
    But as analyst Campbell points out, long-term stability in Afghanistan will ultimately hinge on how Afghan officials confront root factors, such as dysfunctional governance and inequitable economic opportunities, that lead disaffected communities to lend their support to (or at least be indifferent about) the Taliban and like-minded groups.