Taliban breaches major Afghan city for first time since 2001 with assault on Kunduz

Major propaganda victory for the Taliban in northern Afghanistan is latest embarrassment for government of President Ashraf Ghani
Smoke rises from a police station during clashes between Taliban fighters and Afghan security forces in Kunduz  Photo: AP Photo

Taliban fighters on Monday seized the northern Afghan city of Kunduz and freed hundreds of prisoners from jail, the first time the group has taken a major city since 2001.

It is the second time this year the Taliban has launched an attack on Kunduz, the scene of a major battle involving Afghan and American troops in the war to rid the country of the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks.

Afghan government forces are now fighting the insurgents there largely without the support of Nato forces.

Taliban gunmen launched their offensive early Monday morning from several positions and by mid-afternoon hoisted their flag over Kunduz's main square, according to witnesses.

Major propaganda victory for the Taliban in northern Afghanistan is latest embarrassment for government of President Ashraf Ghani
Afghan soldiers keep watch during a battle with the Taliban in Kunduz   Photo: REUTERS

They also burned UN buildings and took control over key government buildings, including the governor’s compound.

Residents said Taliban fighters were seen walking freely around the city streets, commandeering government cars and entering NGO buildings.

General Murad Ali Murad, Afghan ground forces commander, confirmed later on Monday that security forces had retreated to the airport, leaving the Taliban in control of the city. He vowed to retake Kunduz in the coming days.

Most local residents were hiding in their houses, aware that a battle was coming.

“The city is completely shut down," said Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Kunduz resident. "All the shops are closed, the roads are closed by checkpoints, everyone is afraid.”

In one video posted to Facebook purporting to be from Kunduz, an insurgent said they would build schools and bring sharia (Islamic law) to the city.

Zabiullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman, urged civilians to stay inside, claiming via Twitter that the Taliban “are trying to avoid any harm to Kunduz residents”.

The Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 after a US-led campaign, and have been fighting to reimpose their rule in sporadic clashes ever since.

They have stepped up their offensive this year as Nato forces withdrew from combat, leaving behind a few thousand troops in largely mentoring roles.

The militants, and other anti-government groups, including some pledging allegiance to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), have been regularly overrunning and capturing mostly rural districts across Afghanistan.

But until Monday, they had been unable to breach a provincial capital. It is a major propaganda victory for the Taliban, following the damaging revelation in July that their spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, had been dead for two years.

Almost one year to the day since Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president, the successful offensive in Kunduz is also an embarrassment for the Afghan government.

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Source : telegraph[dot]co[dot]uk
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