Afghan police: Taliban seize half of strategic northern city

Author: the associated press
Published: Updated:
MGN Online

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Hundreds of Taliban gunmen seized more than half of the strategic northern city of Kunduz on Monday, including a hospital, a courthouse and other government buildings, and are locked in fierce battles with government forces, police said.

Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, the spokesman for the provincial police chief, told The Associated Press that the insurgents overran more than half the city after launching coordinated early morning attacks. The city’s fall would mark a major loss for the government as it struggles to combat the insurgents without the aid of U.S. and NATO combat troops.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the target of the assault was the city’s main prison and police headquarters. He said security forces in Kunduz, which managed to fend off a major Taliban advance earlier this year, had intelligence that another attack was being planned.

“Security forces in Kunduz were prepared for an attack but not one of this size, and not one that was coordinated in 10 different locations at the same time,” he said. “Right now intensive gun battles are going on inside the city. Part of the city is under the control of the Taliban, including the markets, shops and a number of government buildings.”

The strategically located Kunduz, capital of the province of the same name, is one of Afghanistan’s wealthiest cities. The breadbasket province is a major producer of grain and other food.

The Taliban launched their spring offensive with a major attack on Kunduz in April. They were pushed back by Afghan security forces but are believed to have regrouped and allied with other insurgents.

Hundreds of gunmen stormed the city at around 3 a.m. from several directions, officials said. Kunduz Governor Omar Safi was not in the city at the time, they said. The United Nation’s Assistance Mission to Afghanistan said all its staff had been evacuated from its Kunduz office.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack on his Twitter account, saying the fighters were entering hospitals around the city hunting for wounded government troops. He advised residents to remain indoors.

Abdul Wadood Wahidi, spokesman for the Kunduz governor, said earlier that three police officers had been wounded and “more than 20 bodies of Taliban fighters are on the battlefield.”

He said reinforcements from neighboring provinces had already arrived in Kunduz city, with more on the way from other cities, including the capital, Kabul, and Mazar-i-Sharif.

Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, the head of the Kunduz provincial council, said city residents were “greatly concerned” about the situation. “The Taliban are trying to take control of Kunduz city and this is why they have launched their attacks from different directions using their full power,” he said.

Afghan officials say the Taliban have joined forces across northern Afghanistan with other regional insurgent groups, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as they have expanded from their heartland in southern Afghanistan.

The Taliban have seized a number of rural districts, even if only temporarily, but Kunduz marks their first major advance into an urban area.

Afghan forces have been fighting largely alone since U.S. and NATO concluded their combat mission at the end of last year, shifting to a training and advising capacity. The local security forces have held their ground and repulsed a number of major attacks while taking their heaviest casualties since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban.

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