The Taliban have withdrawn from the north Afghan city of Kunduz two weeks after their fighters breaking open a jail and routing thousands of government forces.
The city was the first major urban centre to fall under insurgent control since 2001, and the rapid collapse of police and army, even though they heavily outnumbered their attackers, .
The insurgent group had come under heavy pressure in recent days from government forces, as officials and residents filtered back into the city to assess the damage to their homes and businesses, at least in daylight hours.
Shops are opening again after two weeks of fighting, and electricity is being restored, 32-year-old Sultan Mohammad told the .
But there are problems with the water supply, buildings have been looted or burned and despite claims by both sides that they were protecting non-combatants, more than 60 civilians have been killed, and about 800 wounded in the fighting so far, the public health ministry said.
The damage to morale may be even harder to weigh up than physical damage. The described the retreat from Kunduz as a tactical withdrawal, as attacks in other parts of the country served as a grim reminder of their reach.
This week they have blocked the main road between Kabul and the southern centre of Kandahar with fighting, leaving hundreds of travellers stranded at the edge of raging gun battles.
“The Islamic Emirate took into consideration the military situation and the fruitless cost of corporeal and material losses ... and therefore ordered its mujahideen to withdraw from the main square markets and government buildings to the outlying rural areas of the city in order to reinforce their defence lines,” the Taliban said in the.
The government in Kabul and its foreign backers had long argued that the security forces would be able to hold major urban centres even if fighting raged just outside.
The fall of Kunduz, one of the most important cities in the region, triggered panic in Kabul as well as across the north.
The United Nations has of its 13 regional offices, and the Taliban have spread through more of Afghanistan than at any time since 2001, the New York Times recently reported.
“We can confidently say that the ripple effect of these conquests will have immense positive impact on the military situation favouring the mujahideen in the near future,” the Taliban said.
“The mujahideen proved that they can achieve their objectives in every part of the country and are able to take over key centers and regions including large cities.”
The group claimed it had protected lives and property, but reports from Kunduz suggested they had hunted down civilians working with women, in the media and at shelters, and executed people linked with security forces.
This week, the Taliban also declared two of the country’s leading television stations, and , legitimate targets. The Afghan journalists’ union said the country’s media may cut coverage of the insurgents in response.
“If the Taliban’s threats continue or journalists are harmed, then Afghan media will boycott news coverage regarding the Taliban,” union member Fahim Dashti said in a statement on live television. Any attack on the media would be seen as a “war crime”, he added.