Taliban Kunduz attack: Afghan forces claim control of city

Afghan security forces make their way through a part of Kunduz on 1 October 2015 Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Afghan flag flies on this checkpoint as government troops drive through parts of Kunduz

Afghan officials say they have regained control of key areas of the northern city of Kunduz from the Taliban.

An operation launched overnight saw forces recapture government landmarks and inflict heavy casualties on the militants, officials said.

But the Taliban has insisted it still controls large parts of the city.

The city's capture on Monday by the militant group was a huge blow to President Ashraf Ghani, coming on the first anniversary of his taking power.

Kunduz, with a population of around 300,000, is one of Afghanistan's largest cities and strategically important both as a transport hub and a bread-basket for the region.

Analysis: Justin Rowlatt, BBC South Asia correspondent

If confirmed this represents a crucial victory for the Afghan army, its biggest test since the withdrawal of coalition forces back in December last year.

And it would be a dramatic turn-around. On Wednesday it looked as if retaking Kunduz would involve a tough battle. Eyewitnesses reported Taliban fighters mining roads and digging in to strategic positions ready to defend their prize.

Yet the Afghan government is today claiming that its forces swept the Taliban out of Kunduz in a couple of hours.

It is jubilant at what will be seen as a crucial victory in the battle against the Taliban insurgency. "This is a huge blow for the Taliban", Sediq Sediqqi, spokesperson for the interior minister said. "It proves Afghan special forces are elite fighters who can win battles."

The government assault began overnight with fighters infiltrating the city and launching a series of simultaneous attacks from different positions.

Kunduz police chief spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini told BBC Afghan on Thursday that the military had retaken the governor's office, the police chief's office and the intelligence agency building, adding: "Taliban bodies are lying around."

Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi tweeted that the city had been re-taken. He later told the AP that 200 Taliban fighters were killed in the operation and said an operation to "clear the city" of the last pockets of resistance was ongoing and could take some days.

But the Taliban denied what it called "enemy claims regarding the Kunduz situation".

"Mujahideen [Taliban fighters] are resisting in the city's security circle," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters, adding that the militant group still controlled most of the city and surrounding districts.

Residents in Kunduz are said to be nervous after a night of bombardment, and after militants set up checkpoints and placed mines on roads to prevent people leaving and troops entering.

Reports also said local boys and men were being forced to fight with the Taliban, who had seized police equipment, ammunition and vehicles and raided banks.

One resident, living close to the centre of Kunduz, told the Associated Press on Thursday morning that the "fighting is intensifying".

"The situation is really critical and getting worse, and I've just heard a huge explosion from a bomb near my house,' Zabihullah said by telephone.

Foreign forces

The US Army confirmed that American and Nato military advisers, including special forces, were in the area, but denied they were fighting on the ground. "But these are dangerous situations and if they need to defend themselves, they will," said a spokesman.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Afghan security forces drive in to Kunduz on Thursday after reportedly retaking the city overnight
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Troops are now said to be clearing the city of the last of the militants, although the Taliban insists it is still in control of Kunduz
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Reinforcements arrived from as far away as Kabul earlier in the week to help with the counter-offensive

Surprise attack

Taliban fighters attacked Kunduz from multiple directions on Monday night, helped by infiltrators who had entered the city during the recent Eid festival. The assault was swift and took Afghan forces by surprise.

Kunduz was the first major urban centre to fall to the Taliban since it was ousted from power after the US-led invasion 14 years ago. The militants also took several neighbouring districts.

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Media captionHow the Taliban bounced back; the BBC's Paul Adam's explains in five simple steps

The BBC's Waheed Massoud in Kabul said that although most analysts thought it unlikely the Taliban could hold on to Kunduz, its capture was a huge symbolic victory for the group and a major setback for the Afghan government.

Jawed Ludin, the former deputy foreign minister of Afghanistan, told the BBC's Today programme that Kunduz was known to be at risk from terror attacks and the government should have done "a better job" at protecting the city.

Afghanistan's chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah admitted to the BBC's Lyse Doucet in Washington that the government must address its "shortcomings" over Kunduz, but he said it was a sign that Afghanistan still needed the support of the US and the international community.

Militant violence has increased across Afghanistan since Nato ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in December, leaving a residual force used for training and counter-terrorism operations. Most of that force is made up of US troops and there are fears Washington plans to pull most of them out in the coming year.

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