'Northern Afghan city of Kunduz collapses into hands of Taliban'

Published September 28, 2015
Afghan security forces patrol, as battles were ongoing between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces in Kunduz. —AFP
Afghan security forces patrol, as battles were ongoing between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces in Kunduz. —AFP
Afghan security forces travel in a Humvee vehicle, as battles were ongoing between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces, in Kunduz, capital of northeastern Kunduz province. —AFP
Afghan security forces travel in a Humvee vehicle, as battles were ongoing between Taliban militants and Afghan security forces, in Kunduz, capital of northeastern Kunduz province. —AFP

KABUL: The Taliban captured the northern Afghan city of Kunduz in a massive assault Monday involving hundreds of fighters, and now control a major urban area for the first time since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

“Kunduz city has collapsed into the hands of the Taliban,” Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told the Associated Press.

The fall of Kunduz marks a major setback for government forces, who have struggled to combat the Taliban since the U.S. and Nato shifted to a supporting role at the end of last year.

Military reinforcements have been sent to Kunduz, where government forces managed to fend off a major Taliban assault earlier this year. “We are trying our best to clear the city as soon as possible,” Sediqqi said.

In a multi-pronged assault that took military and intelligence agencies by surprise, the insurgents sent hundreds of fighters into Kunduz, a once-wealthy city at a key Central Asian crossroads, where they seized government buildings and freed hundreds of prisoners.

Residents said the militants reached the main square 12 hours after launching their attack. They said photographs of President Ashraf Ghani and other leaders were torn down and the white flag of the Taliban was raised. They said residents were streaming to the airport in an effort to flee.

The deputy spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani had earlier described the situation in Kunduz as “fluid.” Zafar Hashemi said the president was “in constant contact with the security and defense leadership to provide them with guidance.”

“Our first priority is the safety and security of residents,” he said.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders said it had treated more than 100 wounded people in Kunduz since the assault began, including 36 who were “in critical condition, with severe abdominal and head injuries.”

The Taliban used social media to claim the “conquest” of Kunduz and reassure residents that the jobs of teachers, doctors and other civil employees, and their personal property, were safe. The Taliban have a history of brutality, and are known to ban women's education as well as music, movies and other trappings of modern life in areas they control.

Gen. Murad Ali Murad, the Deputy Chief of Army Staff, said the Monday attack involved a large number of Taliban drawn from across the north of the country and included foreign fighters. “Strategic areas, including the airport, are controlled by Afghan security forces,” he said.

“Reinforcements have already arrived and attacks on the insurgent positions will be launched soon,” he said without elaborating.

Sediqqi said the target of the Taliban assault was the city's main prison and police headquarters. “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.

Analyst Faheem Dashty said Afghan security and intelligence agencies had been “caught by surprise” in what appeared to be a “big failure” of security and intelligence. “They were expecting a big attack but couldn't defend the city.”

The Taliban launched their spring offensive earlier this year with a major assault on Kunduz that also took government forces unawares and was repelled with the aid of reinforcements after days of heavy fighting.

Since then the Taliban are believed to have regrouped and allied with other insurgents, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and militants driven into Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan by a military assault on insurgent hideouts near the porous border.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss an ongoing military operation, said the U.S. military was aware the Taliban had taken control of a hospital and a number of government buildings in the city, and that both sides - the Taliban and government forces - had sustained a significant number of casualties.

Early indications were that the Afghan forces were in position to throw back the attackers and regain control of the city, although the outcome was still in doubt, the official said earlier on Monday, before the government announced the fall of the city.

The Kunduz assault highlighted the resiliency of the Taliban following the revelation earlier this year that their reclusive longtime leader Mullah Mohammad Omar died two years ago. A bitter internal dispute over the appointment of his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, has yet to be fully resolved, but seems to have had little impact on the battlefield.

Opinion

For whom the clock ticks
Updated 22 Apr 2021

For whom the clock ticks

Tarin will have to succeed in order to cement his position within the cabinet.
Ending the ‘forever war’
Updated 21 Apr 2021

Ending the ‘forever war’

Regardless of who the adversary was at any point, two generations of Afghans have known only war.

Editorial

22 Apr 2021

Capping power debt

THE suggested revision in the Circular Debt Management Plan, which aims to cap the flow or addition of new debt to...
22 Apr 2021

Istanbul postponement

WHILE the postponement of the Istanbul peace talks on Afghanistan, which were scheduled to be held later this week,...
22 Apr 2021

No mining precautions

YET another accident caused by a methane gas explosion has been reported from the dangerous coal mines of...
More mishandling
Updated 21 Apr 2021

More mishandling

By its bad decision-making and weak management, the govt has allowed the TLP to garner more importance and heft than it deserves.
21 Apr 2021

Declining FDI

THE sharp decline in FDI in recent months is worrisome. New State Bank data shows that FDI has plummeted by a hefty...
21 Apr 2021

The digital divide

IN the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Inclusive Internet Index report, measuring internet inclusion in terms...