Afghan security forces try to flush out Taliban in Kunduz
Afghan security forces were going from house to house hunting for remaining Taliban insurgents in Kunduz Friday, days after the militants captured the city in a stunning strike, sparking fierce fighting.
Officials said they were in control of the northern provincial capital while in the east of the country, a US military transport plane crashed killing 11 people including six US soldiers.
The Taliban claimed to have shot the C-130 Hercules down near Jalalabad. However, US Major Tony Wickman told AFP: “With a high degree of confidence I can say that an enemy attack did not contribute to the crash. It is under investigation.”
The Taliban’s offensive in Kunduz, their biggest tactical success since 2001, marks a blow for Afghanistan’s NATO-trained forces, who have largely been fighting on their own since December.
Officials said Friday that Afghan forces had secured the city after days of fierce clashes with the insurgents clouded by confusing and contradictory claims by the government and the Taliban over who was in control.
“Today our security forces are deployed all over Kunduz,” provincial police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini told AFP. “We are searching the lanes of the city and residential houses looking for Taliban militants… We will target and kill them.”
The city was under the control of Afghan forces, he said, including at the government offices and police headquarters.
Residents told AFP Friday morning that the fighting appeared to have ceased.
“You don’t see anyone in the streets, the shops are closed, and there is no fighting between the Taliban and government forces,” Zabihullah, a Kunduz resident who goes by one name, told AFP.
Some people injured during the fighting were too afraid of Taliban attack to leave their homes and go to hospital, he said, adding that food was running short and there was no electricity.
Shahir, another resident who goes by one name, told AFP that sounds of gunfire or explosions in the city had become more intermittent by Friday morning.
“We cannot move from our houses and walk in the streets because the Taliban have taken positions in tall buildings, they are firing on everyone, civilians and military,” he added.
Late Thursday, residents had said fierce gun battles and explosions were still echoing in parts of the city, and the streets were littered with Taliban bodies and charred and mangled vehicles.
– ‘Hit list’ –
Amnesty International condemned the insurgents’ “reign of terror” in Kunduz, citing civilian testimonies of mass murder, gang rapes and house-to-house searches by militant death squads.
The report, which cited rights activists, claimed militants had a hit list and were using young boys to help conduct searches to track down their targets, especially women.
Precise losses in the fighting were not known, but around 60 people have been killed and 400 wounded in the fighting in the province, health ministry official Wahidullah Mayar said on Twitter.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Friday it had received 37 bodies at its trauma centre in Kunduz.
It was treating 345 wounded, 59 of whom were children, while 89 patients had arrived in critical condition.
“We are very short-staffed in the hospitals,” said International Red Cross doctor Peter Esmith Ewoi, who was working in the city, adding that medical staff had been unable to reach work due to the clashes.
The ICRC said in a statement it had emergency medical supplies ready to be flown in from Kabul as soon as security at Kunduz airport improved.
– Opening gambit? –
The fall of Kunduz showcased the stubborn insurgency’s potential to expand beyond its rural strongholds in the south of the country.
Concerns are now mounting that the Taliban’s success in Kunduz, even if temporary, was merely the opening gambit in a new, bolder strategy.
It is also seen as a game-changer for the fractious militant movement that has been dogged by a leadership crisis since the announcement in July of founder Mullah Omar’s death, with analysts calling it a boost for new Taliban chief Mullah Mansour.
The renewed energy of the Taliban offensive has also undermined support for President Ashraf Ghani, and raised questions about Washington’s plan to withdraw most US troops from Afghanistan next year.
Most NATO combat troops pulled out of Afghanistan last year but a small contingent focused on training and counter-terrorism operations remains, including roughly 10,000 American soldiers.