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