Afghan forces 'have retaken town from Taliban'

Afghan security personnel walk around a burnt out vehicle near Kunduz city, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. Picture by AP
Staff Reporter

AFGHANISTAN'S government claims to have successfully retaken the northern city of Kunduz from Taliban militants.

President Ashraf Ghani said the city was retaken in a six-hour assault with no fatalities among the government security forces.

He praised the government troops, saying they "were able to foil one of the most significant operations to have taken place in Afghanistan in 14 years".

Mr Ghani warned that the "good news" from Kunduz, "should not make us complacent".

"The war is ongoing," he said.

Defence minister Masoom Stanekzai said that clashes were still taking place as government forces continue to battle pockets of Taliban insurgents.

"Small guerilla forces remain in various neighbourhoods. We have to clear all the surrounding areas and open transport links so people can come and go," he said.

Interior minister Noor-ul-Haq Ulumi defended the performance of the government in the initial fall of Kunduz. Hundreds of Taliban fighters apparently entered the city over the recent Eid holiday and lay in wait until their operation to take the city was launched early on Monday morning.

"We never took our eyes off the ball," Mr Ulumi said. "We had to protect citizens and so the security forces retreated."

Mr Ulumi seemed to acknowledge that the Taliban had scored a significant propaganda victory and was succeeding in making the government look ineffectual, saying the weakness of the government side "has always been in propaganda and marketing ourselves".

In a statement, the presidential palace said Mr Ghani will send a team to Kunduz to investigate how the Taliban had been able to infiltrate the city.

The fall of Kunduz to the Taliban marked a major setback for Afghan government forces, which have struggled to combat insurgents with limited aid from the US and Nato troops.

Earlier on Thursday afternoon, the Taliban denied they had lost the city and the group's spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed it was still in their hands, saying "the Taliban flag is still flying" over Kunduz.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the operation to take back Kunduz was launched late on Wednesday, with ground forces moving from the airport - where they had massed since the city fell - over roads that had been mined by the insurgents.

Mr Sediqqi claimed control of Kunduz "was taken by 3.30am" on Thursday but conceded that an operation "to clear the city is ongoing" and could take some days.

He told The Associated Press the battle is a joint army and police operation and that roadblocks set up by the Taliban to prevent any movement had been removed. He said essential supplies, including food and medicine, would soon be delivered to the residents.


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