Afghan Forces Make Little Progress in Retaking Kunduz

  • Troops engage in heavy fighting with Taliban on city outskirts
  • U.S. airstrike risks killing civilians, causing backlash

The Afghan forces made little progress in the first day of its campaign to take back the strategic northern city of Kunduz from the Taliban Tuesday, even with the support of U.S. airstrikes, as President Ashraf Ghani sought to rebound from the biggest military defeat of his year-old administration.

Heavy fighting was occurring on the outskirts of Kunduz and more than 80 Taliban militants were killed in the day’s battle, Defense Ministry Spokesman Dawlad Waziri said by phone yesterday. There were fewer casualties among Afghan troops and civilians, he said.

“Afghan forces haven’t made any advance so far to reach the center of the city,” Waziri said. “There is much attention to trying to avoid civilian casualties.”

The offensive will be a test of the Afghan army’s credibility as a fighting force less than a year after U.S. and allied troops ceased regular operations in the nation. Kunduz fell to the Taliban in less than 24 hours Monday.

“It will take a long time for Afghan forces to retake Kunduz,” Abdul Baqi Amin, the director of the Center for Strategic and Regional Studies in Kabul, said by phone Tuesday. "Wherever the Taliban have gained territory, they have lost back to the Afghan army.”

Foreign Fighters

The Taliban were using civilians to shield themselves and that was complicating the army’s offensive, Ghani said Tuesday at a press conference in Kabul.

“There are foreign fighters, including Chinese nationals, in Kunduz,” Acting
Defense Minister Masum Stanekzai told reporters in Kabul. “Fighting is occurring in various parts of the city,” he said.

Soon after taking control of the city’s jail Monday, the Taliban released about 600 prisoners of whom about 110 were Taliban members, Rahmatullah Nabil, the head of National Directorate of Security intelligence agency, told reporters Tuesday.

The U.S. airstrike on Kunduz Tuesday was intended to “eliminate a threat to the force,” U.S. Army Colonel Brian Tribus said Sept. 29 in an e-mailed statement, without being more specific.

For more, read this QuickTake: Leaving Afghanistan

Besides killing tens of Taliban militants, the airstrike hit a vehicle in the city, killing four civilians, television news channel Tolonews reported yesterday, without saying where it got the information.

U.S. Air Strike on Taliban

Another airstrike late Tuesday killed Taliban shadow governor of Kunduz, Mawlawi Salaam, his deputy and 15 others. The Afghan intelligence agency tipped off the U.S. on their location, near Kunduz airport, according to the National Directorate of Security. A senior member of the Pakistani Taliban was also among the dead, it said in a statement.

The government will need to be careful that any future U.S. airstrikes don’t kill or injure Afghan civilians, Amin said. “It’s a big mistake for the government to allow U.S. forces to launch airstrikes on the homes of Afghans where Taliban are hidden,” he said.

The Taliban attack on Kunduz reflected a shift in their efforts to the north of Afghanistan from the south. It was their second attempt to capture the city this year. Kunduz, the country’s fifth-largest city, is located about 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Kabul and borders Tajikistan. It has a majority Pashtun population and had been a Taliban stronghold before the U.S. invasion in 2001.

"The situation in Kunduz city seems quite serious," Graeme Smith, a former senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Kabul, wrote on Twitter. "After Taliban break into urban zones, hard to fight them with aircraft and artillery."

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