Taliban militants seized control of most of the northern city of Kunduz, according to officials, marking the first major Afghan city to fall to the insurgency in 14 years of war. Insurgents stormed the city early Monday, armed with AK-47 rifles and heavy machine guns and riding vehicles stolen from Afghan troops. The Taliban also stormed the prison in Kunduz, freeing more than 600 inmates about 140 of whom are insurgents, a security official confirmed. The government of President Ashraf Ghani, which has been monitoring the insurgent advances vigilantly in the surrounding province for a year, is shocked by the demoralising setback less than a year after the formal end of the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan.

The fall of Kunduz, a major gateway to northern neighbouring countries like Tajikistan, is likely to have repercussions for the spread of the insurgency and the morale of the Afghan security forces. Mr. Ghani, who completes one year in office on Tuesday, has found himself under significant public pressure, as his national unity government has remained stagnant on almost every front. This incident will also set his claims straight of Taliban attacks originating from Pakistan. Undoubtedly he cannot blame Pakistan anymore, now that the fall of Kunduz is very much a clear indication of his failure to protect the sovereignty of his State against the very tangible threat of the Taliban.

Last week Gen. John Campbell had briefed the Pentagon and NATO officials on what to do with the roughly 10,000 US troops currently in the country, most of who are there to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces. In a fresh indication of the Afghans’ continued reliance on American backup, the U.S. military said it carried out an airstrike in Kunduz province on Tuesday. The U.S. government has tried to portray the handover of combat duties to Afghan troops as a step forward. But the fall of Kunduz clearly highlights the weakness of Afghanistan’s NATO-trained forces and complicates continued US involvement in Afghani affairs.

This incident also shows that despite the internal divisions in the Taliban after the death of Mullah Omar, the Taliban remain a force to be reckoned with. New leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour appears to have overcome the bumpy start. The army and the police by its retreat yesterday have really shown that there are question marks over the government’s ability to impose its writ in Kunduz, at least in the short term.