Tuesday 27 September 2016

Afghan soldiers recapture Kunduz city

Danielle Moylan

Published 02/10/2015 | 02:30

Afghan security forces prepare to check on reports of a possible ambush by the Taliban on the Baghlan-Kunduz highway
Afghan security forces prepare to check on reports of a possible ambush by the Taliban on the Baghlan-Kunduz highway

Afghan government forces have wrested back control of Kunduz city, pushing out Taliban militants who had captured it earlier this week.

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"Our operation conducted by special forces started around 9pm and by 3.30am we retook the city," said Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the interior ministry.

Afghan government forces were backed by two US air strikes early on Wednesday evening and support from coalition forces, confirmed Col Brian Tribus, a US military spokesman.

The fall of the provincial capital, even temporarily, had highlighted the stubborn insurgency's potential to expand beyond its rural strongholds in the south of the country.

Security officials said that the militants had slowly infiltrated Kunduz during the recent Eid al-Adha festival, launching a Trojan Horse attack that enabled them to capture it within hours on Monday.

The development coincided with the first anniversary of Ashraf Ghani's national-unity government.

An unknown number of Taliban remained in Kunduz city. Local residents reported that some militants were still hiding in residential homes.

By mid-morning, sporadic gun battles could be heard around the city.

"The operation has not yet ended," Mr Seddiqi confirmed.

According to one resident, who did not want to be named, the Taliban flag in the main square was removed and some shops reopened.

"There are Afghan police and soldiers everywhere, in literally every corner and street. I am confident that they have control of the city," he said.

Residents described a terrifying night of heavy fighting. Noor, another resident, said from his home close to the airport that he heard "constant air bombardments and gunfire from 10pm".

Graphic photos shared on social media showed numerous bodies of dead Taliban fighters lying in the city streets.

It was unclear how many insurgent fighters had been killed, but Mr Seddiqi said it was in the hundreds.

No Afghan security forces nor coalition troops are believed to have suffered casualties.

However, Médecins Sans Frontières, which runs the main trauma hospital in Kunduz, said that since Monday, 296 patients had been admitted, including 64 wounded children.

Forty patients had died and 74 remained in critical condition.

Outside Kunduz city, battles between Afghan forces and the Taliban continued.

The province's second largest city, Imam Sahib, which fell to the Taliban on Wednesday, was also recaptured by Afghan forces early yesterday morning, but "at least 60pc of the district remained in Taliban hands," according to an Afghan security expert.

The Taliban also remained in control of large swathes of the province overall and in neighbouring provinces.

This included the strategically important highway between Kunduz and Baghlan to the south, where earlier this week Taliban fighters had attacked military reinforcements.

Defence minister Masoom Stanekzai said that clashes were still taking place as government forces continue to battle pockets of Taliban insurgents.

"Small guerrilla forces remain in various neighbourhoods. We have to clear all the surrounding areas and open transport links so people can come and go," he said.

Interior minister Noor-ul-Haq Ulumi defended the performance of the government in the initial fall of Kunduz.

"We never took our eyes off the ball," Mr Ulumi said. "We had to protect citizens and so the security forces retreated.".

Irish Independent

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