Taleban gunmen fanned out in full force yesterday across a key Afghan city they captured the previous day, as the US military carried out an airstrike.
President Ashraf Ghani vowed to take the northern city back from the insurgents, urging his nation to trust Afghan troops to do the job.
The Afghan military launched a counteroffensive on Kunduz, Mr Ghani said in a televised address to the nation, adding that his security forces are “retaking government buildings... and reinforcements, including special forces and commandos are either there or on their way there.”
“The enemy has sustained heavy casualties,” said Mr Ghani, who marked his first anniversary in office yesterday. He urged his nation to trust Afghan troops and not give in to “fear and terror”.
But Monday’s assault on Kunduz took the Afghan authorities and military officials by surprise. Hundreds of Taleban launched a coordinated attack and after a day of fierce fighting, managed to overrun government buildings and hoisted their flag in the city square.
The fall of the city of 300,000 inhabitants – the first urban area taken by the Taleban since the 2001 US invasion ousted their regime – was also a major setback to Mr Ghani, who has staked his presidency on bringing peace to Afghanistan and seeking to draw the Taleban to peace talks. Taleban gunmen were patrolling the streets of Kunduz yesterday, setting up checkpoints, searching for government loyalists and sealing off exit routes for anyone who wished to escape.
In Kabul, the National Security Council was meeting to discuss development. The number of dead and wounded in the fighting was unclear.
Wahidullah Mayar, spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, said on Twitter that Kunduz hospitals received “172 wounded patients and 16 dead bodies so far”. Doctors Without Borders, the international charity, said its trauma centre in Kunduz received 129 wounded since early Monday morning, including 20 women and 39 children.
The Taleban issued a statement, attempting to reassure residents of Kunduz that they were safe. But by yesterday morning, roads were blocked and some government buildings set on fire, several residents said.