Afghan Forces Report Gains in Kunduz After Push by Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials said on Tuesday that their commando forces had reclaimed the main city square in Kunduz from the Taliban and were making gains elsewhere in the key provincial capital, where the insurgents overran central neighbourhoods on Monday.

Residents said by telephone that the Taliban were still present in parts of the city and that clashes were continuing.

Asadullah Omarkhel, the governor of Kunduz Province, said the military’s clearance operations would continue until the city and its surroundings were free of insurgents. “The armed opposition is using people’s homes as shields, and that is why our clearance operations are slow, to make sure civilians are not harmed,” he said.

But Amruddin Wali, a member of the provincial council, said local officials were exaggerating their successes and accused them of deceiving the Afghan people and the central government.

“It’s not the home of the police chief, or the army division commander, or the zone commander that is burning,” Mr. Wali said. “It’s the ordinary people’s homes and lives that are ruined, and the officials are continuing with their lies.”

Mr. Wali said the government controlled the area between Kunduz’s airport and the main city square, where it had parked armored vehicles. But, he said, “You can’t go past the main square without armored vehicles.”

Massoud Payez, who lives near the headquarters of the police in the city center, said that his neighborhood was still on lockdown and that movement in the city was limited.

“We can’t leave our homes. The shops and bakeries are closed,” Mr. Payez said. “The police are firing from the towers of their headquarters, and the commandos are also firing from one side. And the Taliban are at the other end of the street.”

The coordinated Taliban attack on Kunduz, about a year after the city was briefly takien by the insurgents, began from four directions before dawn on Monday.

Afghan and American military officials initially played down fears that the city was on the verge of falling again. But alarm began to spread as the Taliban reached the main square, posting updates of their progress on social media. While insurgent fighters infiltrated large parts of the city, the government managed to hold on to its main administrative and security buildings. Stern warnings were issued to members of the Afghan forces not to abandon their posts, as many have done in past assaults.

The Taliban’s swift re-entry into Kunduz raised questions not just about Afghan forces’ ability to protect major urban centers, but also about the resolve of the American-led NATO mission to help them prevent cities from falling to the insurgents.

While American military officials say they are determined to prevent such defeats, memories of the bombing of a hospital in Kunduz last year by a United States warplane, as the Americans took charge of reclaiming the city, may hinder their involvement. At least 42 people were killed in the bombing, which the group that ran the hospital, Doctors Without Borders, called a war crime.

The timing of the latest assault on Kunduz seemed aimed at embarrassing the leaders of the Afghan coalition government, who are in Brussels to ask for continued financial support at a conference attended by dozens of world leaders.

The governments represented at the conference are expected to pledge more than $3 billion in annual development aid over the next four years, in addition to the funds spent by NATO and the United States in covering much of the expenses of the Afghan security forces.


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