Heavy fighting raged inside the key northern Afghan city of Kunduz for a third day yesterday as government forces, backed by US air strikes, battled Taliban insurgents who had scored one of their boldest successes in 14 years of war.
“There are limited coalition forces in the Kunduz area advising and assisting, in accordance with our Resolute Support mission”, said Colonel Brian Tribus, a spokesman for USA forces in Afghanistan.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook called it a “setback” for Afghan forces, expressed confidence in their ability to eventually retake the city, and declined to say what the clash reveals about the capabilities of the Taliban.
A U.S military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one of the air strikes was carried out in an effort to protect coalition forces after Taliban fighters stole a tank and were heading towards the airfield.
In what is seen as the worst set back after the gains made by the coalition and Afghan forces in the fight against terrorism in recent years, Taliban forces on Monday seized Kunduz, a provincial capital in northern Afghanistan.
Two days after seizing Kunduz, the Taliban are on the offensive, threatening the city’s airport, where troops and civilians had retreated to believing it was safe.
Taliban militants on Tuesday morning attacked several police checkpoints in Kunduz’s neighboring Takhar province to engage government forces.
“It is shameful how they have dealt with the situation in Kunduz”, said Iqbal Safi of Kapisa province, between Kabul and Kunduz.
“The Taliban still hold their positions”, Sadat said. 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 United Nations The road blocks were preventing delivery of food, medicines and other supplies into the city.
The spokesman for Afghanistan’s Public Health Ministry, Wahidullah Mayar, said on his official Twitter account that 30 people have been killed in the fighting, and more than 200 inured.
“Questions about how thousands of army, police and militia defenders could continue to fare so poorly against a Taliban force that most local and military officials put in the hundreds hung over President Ashraf Ghani’s government and its American allies”, it adds.
“We will make Kunduz our stronghold and gather our forces here to achieve more triumphs”, spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said.
“We actually wanted to capture the airport and organised a big attack last night”, said a Taliban commander close to Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the Taliban’s new leader.
The militants seized a strategically important hilltop on Wednesday, as North Atlantic Treaty Organisation special forces reached the city.
He further said, “We assure the people the province of Kunduz is under the management of security forces”. He said nearly all were civilians.
A few lawmakers have pointed to the fall of Kunduz as evidence the United States should change its plan to withdraw the current 9,800 USA troops down to several hundred next year.