A Taliban spokesman said that one reason they attacked Kunduz was to show their group was still united since a new leader had been appointed in July, which made several in the group angry.
“The upshot is that Afghan forces, despite their many improvements in recent years, remain a work in progress”, said Michael Kugelman, Afghanistan expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson worldwide Center for Scholars.
The Taliban had forced Afghan troops and officials to retreat to the airport and freed hundreds from jail, in one of their biggest assaults since 2001.
In a fresh indication of the Afghans’ continued reliance on American backup, the US military said it carried out an airstrike in Kunduz province on Tuesday.
Dozens of Afghan special forces have been flown into Kunduz airport on a C-130 aircraft and were preparing to launch a counter-attack, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
They announced that the prison and police department headquarters were now back in government control.
An eyewitness in Kunduz told the BBC that Taliban reinforcements arrived on Tuesday, with the situation too risky for locals to leave.
The militants called the seizure of Kunduz an “immense conquest” in a statement urging its fighters to respect the locals and which attempted to reassure Kunduz residents the Taliban had “no intention” of looting, violating their property or carrying out extrajudicial killings.
Afghan health officials said that at least 25 people, mostly civilians, had been killed since Monday.
“U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Kunduz today to eliminate a threat to coalition and Afghan forces operating in the vicinity of Kunduz”, said Colonel Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the NATO-led coalition, in a statement. Despite the launch of the counter-offensive, Kunduz swarmed with Taliban fighters racing stolen police vehicles and Red Cross vans.
The stunning assault came a day before President Ashraf Ghani’s unity government marked its first anniversary.
“We remind all parties to the conflict – both state and non-state actors – of their obligation to protect journalists“, said Reza Moini, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Afghanistan desk.
The Taliban attack on Kunduz reflected a shift in their efforts to the north of Afghanistan from the south. It was their second attempt to capture the city this year.
The Afghan provincial capital of Kunduz has largely fallen into “the hand of enemies”, Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said late Monday.
The office of the National Directorate of Security, the country’s main intelligence agency, was set on fire and a 200-bed government hospital was also captured.
The new takeover by the Taliban highlights the flawed strategy of the US and its allies in dealing with increasing violence in Afghanistan, which continues to suffer the consequences of the USA invasion a few 14 years later. It underlines again the government’s difficulties in reining in the insurgency in the wake of last years’ mass withdrawal of foreign combat troops.