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Taliban attack: Afghan forces struggle to retake Kunduz

Heavy fighting is continuing in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, a day after government forces launched an attack to reclaim it from the Taliban.

Two US air strikes on Tuesday halted an attempt by insurgents to seize the airport, the army’s stronghold.

Afghanistan’s spy agency says the strikes killed the Taliban leader in the province and his deputy, but the Taliban have denied this.

The capture of Kunduz represents the militants’ biggest victory since 2001.

Militant violence has increased across Afghanistan since the departure of most Western forces at the end of 2014.

On Tuesday the United States acknowledged the seizure of Kunduz as a setback, but said it remained confident that Afghan security forces could re-take the city.

An unspecified number of Nato special forces have now reached the city, reports say.

Overnight there were clashes around Kunduz, but it remains unclear just how much of it remains under government or Taliban control.

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Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesman for Kunduz’s police chief, told Reuters: “Hundreds of Taliban are killed and their dead bodies are on [the] streets.”

There was no independent confirmation.

The Afghan defence ministry claimed the town’s police headquarters and prison had been recaptured, after militants released hundreds of prisoners when they took the city on Monday.

But Taliban-released video featured militants in the town showing off seized tanks, armoured vehicles, police cars and Red Cross vans.

Map showing Kunduz

An eyewitness told the BBC that Taliban reinforcements had also arrived, with the situation too dangerous for locals to leave.

Residents, nervous of both the Taliban and the possibility of street-fighting in the battle for the city, are largely staying indoors.

The Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, said the government should admit defeat.

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President Ashraf Ghani, who completed his first year in office on Tuesday, said in a televised address that “progress” was being made in recapturing Kunduz, but security forces had been hampered by the Taliban using civilians as human shields.

“The Taliban have laid landmines and booby traps around Kunduz, slowing the movement of convoys of Afghan army reinforcements driving to the city,” a security official told AFP news agency.

Taliban fighters in a seized Red Cross vehicle
Image copyrightAP
Image captionTaliban fighters seized UN and Red Cross cars, along with police and military vehicles

The assault on Monday was swift and took Afghan forces by surprise.

As darkness fell, heavily armed fighters crossed fields to attack the city from multiple directions. They quickly overwhelmed several of the police checkpoints defending the perimeter of the town.

They then captured key buildings, freed about 500 prisoners from the city’s jail and forced officials and troops to retreat to the airport.

Kunduz province has seen a number of attacks since April, with the Taliban joining forces with other insurgents.

Nato ended its combat mission in Afghanistan in December, withdrawing most of its troops, apart from a 13,000-strong residual force used for training and counter-terrorism operations.

Afghan special forces arrive for a battle with the Taliban in Kunduz city
Image copyrightReuters
Image captionOfficials said thousands of special forces were preparing to retake the city


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