US airstrikes back Afghanistan’s push to re­take city from Tal­iban

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY LYNNE O’DON­NELL

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.

AFP

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.

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