U.S. fighter jets headed to northern Afghanistan on Wednesday as government forces battled for a fifth day against Taliban fighters seeking to take control of a key city.
President Ashraf Ghani deployed about 2,000 extra troops to help retain control of Kunduz, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqi. The government will use both air and ground forces against the militants, he said.
“Neither Kunduz nor its districts will collapse,” Siddiqi told reporters on Wednesday in Kabul, the capital.
The first major battle under the Taliban’s annual spring offensive is testing the strength of Afghan forces after the U.S. said it ended combat operations in the country. Kunduz province was the final Taliban stronghold to fall after American forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
“U.S. jets are flying into Kunduz province in the past few hours,” Chris Belcher, a spokesman for the U.S.-led Resolute Support Mission, said by phone, adding that Afghanistan hadn’t requested any help. No ammunition has been dropped, he said, declining to share mission details because of security reasons.
About 2,000 families have been displaced as Taliban rebels including Chechens, Uzbeks and Tajiks threatened to take over the Kunduz region, provincial police spokesman Sarwar Hussaini said by phone. Imam Saheb district is under government control after a Monday night battle, and a fight is underway for control of other areas, he said.
Ghani delayed a visit to India by a few hours on April 27 to hold an emergency meeting with his army commanders and U.S. General John Campbell, who heads the international forces. Afghanistan’s senior deputy interior minister and deputy army chief are in Kunduz.
There are at least 21 major operations ongoing in the country, including the one in Kunduz, Dawlat Waziri, deputy spokesman of the Defense Ministry, told reporters in Kabul. Both sides have faced casualties, he said, without elaborating.