Afghan troops push into Kun­duz, Tal­iban in re­treat

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

Afghan gov­ern­ment forces pushed overnight into the strate­gic north­ern city of Kun­duz that was cap­tured by the Tal­iban ear­lier this week, forc­ing the in­sur­gents to re­treat amid heavy street bat­tles that were still un­der­way Thurs­day.

But de­spite prompt claims from of­fi­cials that much of the city had been lib­er­ated, by mid­day, res­i­dents re­main­ing in­side Kun­duz and hun­ker­ing down at their homes said they could still hear ex­plo­sions and shoot­ings out­side.

The fall of Kun­duz to the Tal­iban on Mon­day marked a ma­jor set­back for Afghan gov­ern­ment forces, which have strug­gled to com­bat in­sur­gents with lim­ited aid from Amer­i­can and NATO troops. The in­ter­na­tional forces’ role shifted to train­ing and sup­port af­ter all NATO com­bat forces with­drew from Afghanistan at the end of last year.

The Tal­iban de­nied they had lost the city and the group’s spokesman Zabi­hul­lah Mu­jahid claimed on Thurs­day that it was still in their hands, say­ing “the Tal­iban flag is still fly­ing” over Kun­duz.

The spokesman for the In­te­rior Min­istry said the op­er­a­tion to take back Kun­duz was launched late Wed­nes­day, with ground forces mov­ing from the air­port — where they had massed since the city fell — over roads that had been mined by the in­sur­gents.

Sediqqi claimed that con­trol of Kun­duz “was taken by 3:30 a.m.” on Thurs­day but con­ceded that an op­er­a­tion “to clear the city is on­go­ing” and could take some days.

He told The As­so­ci­ated Press the bat­tle is a joint army and po­lice op­er­a­tion and that road­blocks set up by the Tal­iban to pre­vent any move­ment had been re­moved. He said es­sen­tial sup­plies, in­clud­ing food and medicine, would be de­liv­ered soon to the res­i­dents.

Sediqqi said around 200 Tal­iban fight­ers have been killed in the fight­ing so far but did not pro­vide a fig­ure for gov­ern­ment ca­su­al­ties. Kun­duz po­lice chief, Sar­war Hus­saini, said bod­ies of dead Tal­iban fight­ers lay on some of the city’s streets but that the clear­ance op­er­a­tion was com­pli­cated be­cause some Tal­iban fight­ers had hid­den in­side peo­ple’s homes.

Res­i­dents re­ported street bat­tles and gun­fire in var­i­ous ar­eas of the city.

Fight­ing was also on in the Bandr-i-Iman Sahib dis­trict in the west of Kun­diz, where res­i­dent Mu­nib Khan said the Tal­iban were armed with rocket-pro­pelled grenades and were putting up a heavy fight. Khan said the fight­ing had taken front-stage to the “many prob­lems in­side the city,” which now has “no wa­ter, no elec­tric­ity.”

It was not pos­si­ble to im­me­di­ately gauge how much of Kun­duz was se­cured by the Afghan forces. The cap­ture of the city by the Tal­iban, which be­gan with a co­or­di­nated at­tack Mon­day, had taken the gov­ern­ment, mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies by sur­prise.

Ear­lier in the morn­ing, Mu­jahid had sent a text mes­sage to The As­so­ci­ated Press, say­ing that “the United States, with their pup­pets, have been bomb­ing Kun­duz city. Gov­ern­ment forces have re­ceived heavy ca­su­al­ties.”

Afghan troops, backed by U.S. airstrikes, had massed on the out­skirts of the city and at the Kun­duz air­port on Wed­nes­day in a buildup of what was ex­pected to be a long and dif­fi­cult cam­paign to drive out the Tal­iban.

In a state­ment Thurs­day, the pres­i­den­tial palace said Ghani had spo­ken with mil­i­tary lead­ers in Kun­duz to get an up­date on the sit­u­a­tion. It also said the pres­i­dent will send a team to Kun­duz to in­ves­ti­gate how the Tal­iban had been able to in­fil­trate the city.

AP

Afghan po­lice of­fi­cers walk past a Tal­iban fighter’s dead body in Kun­duz, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thurs­day, Oct. 1.

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