Heavy fighting continued Wednesday in northern Afghanistan as the country’s security forces tried to recapture the city of Kunduz from Taliban fighters who seized it earlier this week in a major victory for the militant group.
Taliban roadblocks and landmines have prevented the Afghan army from speeding reinforcements to Kunduz.
U.S. warplanes carried out a pair of airstrikes on Tuesday in support of the Afghan troops. A spokesman for the U.S.-led NATO alliance said the first strike was done to “eliminate a threat to coalition and Afghan forces.”
A second strike overnight hit the area around the Kunduz City Airport, which was the site of heavy clashes late Tuesday after Taliban fighters staged a major attack on the complex. Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said the airstrike killed the Taliban’s shadow governor for Kunduz province along with 15 other people. There was no official confirmation.
Afghan special forces arrive at the airport as they launch a counteroffensive to retake the city from Taliban insurgents, in Kunduz, Sept. 29, 2015.
President Ashraf Ghani told reporters Tuesday in Kabul that national forces have made quick advances and retook control of several buildings. He said that airstrikes have inflicted heavy casualties on the opposition, insisting Taliban insurgents are using residents in Kunduz as “human shields”.
Ghani called for calm and appealed to the nation to trust Afghan security forces, saying they are determined to retake Kunduz very soon and restore peace to the region.
Taliban spokesman Mujahid rejected as government propaganda that Taliban fighters have indulged in looting banks, shops, government and non-government offices.
Taliban insurgents overran the Afghan city of Kunduz on Monday in a surprise multi-pronged offensive. This was the first time the insurgent group captured a major city since being ousted from power in 2001.
The Pentagon said the situation in Kunduz remained “fluid,” but expressed confidence in Afghan security forces Tuesday. “We’ve seen them respond in recent weeks and months to the challenges they’ve faced. And they’re doing the same thing in Kunduz right now,” said spokesman Peter Cook. He called the Taliban advance Monday “clearly a setback” for Afghan security forces.
Casualties from the fighting are not yet known.
Since hostilities began in Kunduz, health officials say local hospitals have received nearly 200 injured people and 16 dead.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in a statement Tuesday said that its hospital in Kunduz has treated around 50 children.
Taliban prisoners walk on a street after their comrades released them from the main jail in Kunduz, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015.
It said that the majority of patients it has treated so far “had sustained gunshot wounds and surgeons have been treating severe abdominal, limb and head injuries.”
Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai, while speaking in Kabul, confirmed the deaths of 17 security forces. He urged the Taliban to cease the bloodshed and try to resolve differences through peaceful means.
The battlefield setback came as President Ghani’s government completed its first year in power. The Afghan leader has already been under fire for failing to improve governance and security around the country, and counter widespread corruption in state institutions.
The Taliban raised its flag over the city and freed all prisoners from the central jail shortly after taking control on Monday.
Afghan Intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil told reporters on Tuesday that there were 600 inmates in the detention center, including more than 100 “low-level” Taliban fighters.
United Nations and international rights groups have called on all sides to safeguard civilians.
The Taliban had come close to capturing Kunduz when it launched a spring offensive in April but Afghan security forces repelled the assault. President Ghani and other top officials had promised at the time they would not allow the insurgents to come closer again.
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