Afghan forces clashed with Taliban fighters in Kunduz on Tuesday as the government launched an operation to retake the centre of the northern city, the first provincial capital to fall to the insurgents since their movement was toppled 14 years ago.
As Afghan forces fought for control of Kunduz, US military planes hit Taliban positions on the outskirts of the city, a NATO spokesman said.
“US forces conducted an air strike 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. He did not elaborate on how many coalition troops were in the area.
'Hard to get certain news' between Taliban, govt claims
NATO officially ended its combat role in Afghanistan last year. A scaled-down coalition presence now mostly trains and advises Afghan forces, although US drones still target militant leaders and a US counter-terror force remains.
The fall of Kunduz city centre on Monday was a major setback for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which marked its first year in power on Tuesday.
Ghani told the nation in a televised speech on Tuesday that government reinforcements had reached Kunduz and the neighbouring Baghlan province, and that an army battalion was on its way to help embattled troops regain the city.
He said that security forces’ efforts had been hampered by Taliban fighters using civilians as human shields.
“The government is responsible, and cannot and will not bomb its own citizens,” Ghani said.
Earlier in the day, the government said in a statement that its forces had regained the city prison and the provincial police headquarters, which were overrun on Monday night.
More than 100 Taliban fighters were among the 600 prisoners who escaped during the jail attack, National Directorate of Security chief Rahmatullah Nabil told reporters on Tuesday.
A government official at Kunduz airport reported heavy fighting, and said electricity and phone services were out in most of the city.
“Serious fighting is going on. New troops have arrived. The Afghan security forces have been retaking most of the strategic parts of the city and there’s gunfire in many areas,” said Matin Safraz, an interior ministry official.
Precise casualties from the fighting were not known.
“The enemy is suffering heavy casualties from air strikes,” Ghani said in his speech.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said three militants had died and 11 were wounded, while at least 18 Afghan police had been killed. The militants often overstate casualties they inflict on government security personnel.
“We are sending more fighters from other areas to support local mujahideen,” he said. “The situation is very serious, and intense fighting is going on between our mujahideen and Afghan forces.”
Afghan government should ‘admit defeat’
Residents in Kunduz said the Taliban were patrolling the streets in vehicles they had seized from the army, police and Western aid agencies.
In a message issued on Tuesday, the Taliban’s new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour celebrated the city’s capture, saying the government in Kabul should admit defeat.
“These conquests are result of almighty Allah’s support and the mujahideen [fighters] sacrifices. Therefore, officials in Kabul have to admit their defeat with courage,” Mansour said.
“Kunduz residents should not be worried about their lives and property. They should continue as normal without any tension,” he added.
The Taliban’s former government imposed strict Islamic law over Afghanistan for five years before a US-led military intervention in 2001 toppled the regime.
Its members have been fighting an insurgency ever since, although it has increased in intensity since the beginning of the year after NATO withdrew almost all of its soldiers.
That left defending the country largely to NATO-trained Afghan security forces who have struggled to contain the spiralling violence.
Mansour officially took over the Taliban after the July revelation that longtime leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was dead.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-09-29