Taliban fighters launched a three-pronged offensive on the capital of the northern Afghan province of Kunduz on Monday, fighting their way through the main entrances to the city, burning buildings and briefly taking over a hospital.
Fierce fighting raged in the northern city of Kunduz as marauding insurgents freed hundreds of prisoners from the local jail, set government buildings on fire and hoisted their trademark white flag over the homes of officials.
The attack comes a day after a suicide attack at a game of cricket in the eastern province of Paktika killed at least nine people and wounded more than 30. “I can see their fighters all around”, a reporter from Agence-France Presse (AFP) said.
“Security forces in Kunduz were prepared for an attack, but not one of this size and not one that was coordinated in 10 different locations at the same time”, Sediqqi told the Associated Press earlier Monday.
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.
In online statements, the Taliban claimed to have entered the city’s 200-bed main hospital and were looking for the “injured enemy”, an apparent reference to Afghan soldiers and police.
It was the group’s third attempt this year to breach the city, and coincided with the first anniversary of president Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government in power.
“The mujahideen are trying to avoid any harm to Kunduz residents”, he said on Twitter.
The official says early indications are that Afghan security forces are in position to throw back the attackers and regain control in Kunduz, although the outcome is still in doubt.
Kunduz Province is strategic as it is located on a crossroad that connects key regions of the country.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high in the first half of 2015, a United Nations report said last month, as Afghan forces struggle to contain the expanding conflict without North Atlantic Treaty Organisation combat troops.
The Taliban militants have reportedly launched the attack on the district’s administrative compound and police headquarter earlier this evening.
The city’s loss represented not so much an overwhelming offensive by the Taliban as a gradual collapse under pressure by the country’s besieged security forces.
The Taliban have not held a major Afghan city since their government was overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. The city’s approximately 304,000 residents were living in fear, he said.
Residents said the militants reached the main square 12 hours after launching their attack.
The siege raises questions about the U.S.-trained Afghan military’s ability to repel a renewed Taliban insurgency, as well as the ability of the US, which still runs air operations over the country to assist in the effort.
Afghanistan’s minister of defense said that his forces withdrew not because of weakness, but because they did not want to subject the civilian population to total urban warfare.