KUNDUZ, Afghanistan-The Taliban on Monday seized partial control of a major Afghan city Monday, witnesses said, the first time they have done so since being ousted from power by a U.S.-led invasion.
At least 25 militants and two policemen have been killed and reinforcements have been sent, the BBC reported, citing the government.
“Half the city has fallen into the hands of Taliban insurgents”, Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, police spokesman for the northeastern Kunduz province, told a news conference, adding local forces had not yet received promised external support.
Kunduz had “collapsed” into Taliban control, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told the Associated Press.
He also said the Taliban had made the biggest gains in the city’s south-west, where a few local communities, already disenchanted with the government, had picked up weapons and joined the insurgents.
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. Kunduz was the center of the Northern Alliance rebellion against the Taliban, which eventually took over the key government positions during the U.S. occupation, and holds them to this day.
This was the group’s third attempt this year to breach the city, which coincides with the first anniversary of President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government in power.
The city was swarming with Taliban fighters racing police vehicles, who overran the governor’s compound and the local police headquarters. “Right now intensive gun battles are going on inside the city”.
He added the attack seemed to be a joint offensive by militants from Kunduz and nearby Baghlan and Takhar provinces. “We are trying our best to clear the city as soon as possible”, Sediqqi said.
The insurgents entered the city during an early morning assault, storming the regional hospital and clashing with security forces at the nearby university.
In a statement issued today (Monday), Amnesty said: “The Taliban and Afghan security forces must ensure that civilians are protected in accordance with global law and that nobody is targeted in reprisals against their work”.
The fall of Kunduz marks a major setback for government forces, who have struggled to combat the Taliban since the USA and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation shifted to a supporting role at the end of a year ago. “Then, the inmates broke all the doors and fences and started running towards the main gate”.
Daoudi says that after the initial pre-dawn attack residents were told the battle was over, but that “everything changed this afternoon and Taliban fighters took control of different parts of the city”.
However, unverified pictures circulating on social media showed Taliban militants hoisting their flags in several parts of the city; it also showed militants searching for wounded security personnel with the help of a medic at a provincial hospital.