US airstrikes back Afghanistan’s push to retake city from Taliban
U.S. airstrikes hit Taliban positions overnight around a key northern city seized by insurgents this week as Afghan troops massed on the ground Wednesday ahead of what is likely to be a protracted battle to retake Kunduz.
But in a setback to Afghan troop efforts, the Taliban forced government troops to retreat from an ancient hilltop fortress overlooking Kunduz on Wednesday, giving the insurgents a vantage point over the city.
Overnight, there was fierce fighting for control of Kunduz’s airport, a few kilometers outside the city, before the Taliban retreated under fire, several residents said. The airport remained in Afghan government hands.
Taliban fighters were also gearing for the long fight and were seen planting bombs and mining roads in and out of the city on Wednesday to slow down Afghan forces.
U. S. Army spokesman, Col. Brian Tribus, said there were two new airstrikes and that U.S. and NATO coalition advisers, including special forces were at the scene “in the Kunduz area, advising Afghan security forces.”
A lawmaker from Kunduz, Malim Chari, told The Associated Press that the fortress of Bala Hissar fell early in the afternoon on Wednesday. The structure dates back to pre-Christian times when the region was part of the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Persian King Cyrus the Great.
The Afghan army had used the fortress as a security post.
The Taliban captured Kunduz, a city of 300,000 people, on Monday. It was the first major urban area they seized since the 2001 U. S.- led invasion ousted their extremist regime.
The attack took Afghan authorities by surprise, as the militants managed to sneak into the city during the recent Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, a busy season when many Afghans travel in and out of urban areas.
The infiltration was an apparent intelligence failure, and the head of the country’s intelligence agency, Rahmatullah Nabil, apologized to lawmakers in parliament on Wednesday for it.
Since the capture, the Taliban have put Kunduz on lockdown. Militants have been going house to house searching for government workers, instilling fear, according to residents who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.
Roads in and out of the city were blocked and the Taliban — believed to have joined forces with other insurgent groups to boost their numbers — were said to be forcing boys and young men to fight with them.
During Monday’s assault, the insurgents freed 600 prisoners from the Kunduz jail, among them 144 who had been jailed as Taliban gunmen, officials said.
The insurgents also set up checkpoints to ensure that no one leaves. Officials who made it to the airport on the outskirts of the city before roads were sealed were still hunkered down there. The whereabouts of the provincial governor, Omar Safi, who was abroad when the city fell, were unknown.
Information from inside the city remained sketchy. Kunduz residents have described an atmosphere of fear and reported arbitrary acts of violence, such as torching and looting of government buildings, shuttered businesses and the compounds of non- government organizations, including the U.N. The road blocks were preventing delivery of food, medicines and other supplies into the city.
This photograph taken on Tuesday, Sept. 29 shows Afghan security personnel keeping watch as heavy fighting erupted near the airport on the outskirts of Kunduz, Afghanistan.