Tuesday 12 December 2017

Coalition special forces battle Taliban in bid to retake key Afghan city

Facing setback: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Facing setback: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Danielle Moylan

Coalition special forces battled Taliban fighters yesterday near the northern city of Kunduz, which was captured by the Taliban this week, a coalition spokesman said.

The forces arrived in Kunduz after Afghan security forces failed to push the Taliban out of the city initially to provide advice rather military assistance.

But they then encountered an insurgent threat in the vicinity of the city's airport yesterday, according to reports.

Colonel Brian Tribus gave few details, but confirmed foreign troops had engaged insurgents while supporting Afghan forces.

"Coalition special forces advisers, while advising and assisting elements of the Afghan Security Forces, encountered an insurgent threat in the vicinity of the Kunduz airport at approximately 1am, 30 September," the coalition spokesman said.

The Nato contingent included British, US and German troops, according to AFP news agency.

For the third day, Taliban militants remained in control of Kunduz, foiling a counter-offensive by Afghan security forces overnight. The US also carried out two air strikes outside the city against Taliban targets, but did not provide further details.

Taliban fighters first seized control of the city after staging an audacious assault on it on Monday. It is Afghan president Ashraf Ghani's biggest setback since taking office a year ago and the worst attack since the bulk of foreign troops left at the end of last year.

Kunduz was the last major city to fall when US-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001, weeks after the September 11 attacks on the United States that were planned by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden while he was in hiding in Afghanistan.

The Afghan spy agency NDS announced one air strike had killed Mawlawi Salam, the Taliban's leader in Kunduz, his deputy and at least a dozen other Taliban fighters, although it was unclear if that air strike had been carried out by the US.

A local resident, who did not wish to be named out of fear of retribution, said that fierce battles had raged in Kunduz throughout the evening.

"There were a lot of aerial bombardments outside the city, and ground troops fighting close to the main square," he said. The Taliban had suffered casualties, he added, saying he had seen several bodies lying in the street.

In addition to holding their ground in the city, the Taliban also managed to unleash the serious assault on the airport, the last area in Kunduz city under government control.

Even if the Taliban are ultimately unsuccessful, the battle for Kunduz appears to have re-energised insurgents who had appeared split only months ago after it was confirmed that Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar had died two years ago.


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