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 and 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 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. While it is considered a bread basket for the country as a major wheat producing region, it is also 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.
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.”