Taliban fighters have captured large swathes of Kunduz, a major city in northern Afghanistan, after the group launched a surprise attack.
Early indications were that the Afghan forces were in position to throw back the attackers and regain control of the city, although the outcome was still in doubt, the official said earlier on Monday, before the government announced the fall of the city.
Wali said he wasn’t sure which buildings have fallen into the hands of the Taliban, but stressed “fierce fighting” was going on in multiple sections of the city.
Elsewhere in the country, a vehicle bomb near a cricket match in the eastern Paktika province killed nine people and wounded 33, according to the Interior Ministry.
The city is an important regional hub for the trafficking of weapons and drugs, and its “fall poses a dire challenge to the assertion that the Afghan security forces can hold the country’s most vital cities”, observes the New York Times. “I can see their fighters all around”, an Agence France- Presse journalist in the city said yesterday.
Battles between government forces and the Taliban were raging about 500 metres from the governor’s compound, the deputy governor said, after he had fled to the city’s airport.
Kunduz province, which borders Tajikistan and is a major transport hub for the north of the country, could offer the Taliban a critical new base of operations beyond their traditional southern strongholds.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid urged Kunduz residents to stay inside.
There are worries in Afghanistan that a leadership dispute among the Taliban could lead to more defections to the Islamic State group, strengthening its ranks in Afghanistan.
The unrest ended a lull in attacks during the Muslim festival of Eid and underlined the challenges facing President Ashraf Ghani, whose national unity government has drawn criticism for failing to end growing insurgent attacks a year after coming to power.
For a year, local officials had been sounding the alarm about the insurgents’ advance toward the capital, even as a few Afghan and Western officials had sought to describe the Taliban’s gains in Afghanistan as marginal and largely confined to rural areas, far from population centers.
The province is one of the most volatile provinces in the northern region of the country, with three districts reportedly under Taliban control.
Dominic Medley, spokesman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said all U.N. staffers were evacuated as security deteriorated. That evening, they were fighting government forces near the provincial police chief’s compound, police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini told CNN.
“The attack was directed from overseas and by the Taliban’s foreign supporters”, Murad said.
The Taliban victory represents a major blow to Afghani security forces, which have been fighting the insurgents mostly on their own since the beginning of the year.
A hospital official confirmed Taliban fighters had entered the hospital briefly, apparently looking for wounded government fighters.
“The militants are close to the four entrance gates of Kunduz”.