Afghan security forces have launched a major counter-offensive to take back Kunduz, a day after Taliban insurgents seized control of the northern city. The insurgents reportedly launched a surprise dawn attack on the city on Monday and by evening had succeeded in capturing the provincial police headquarters and the governors compound. After driving Afghan forces back to an airport on the outskirts of Kunduz, the insurgents raised their white standard over the city’s central square and freed hundreds of Taliban fighters imprisoned in a nearby gaol. It is the second time this year that the Taliban have attacked Kunduz, a strategically important city defended almost entirely by Afghan forces since 2013, when security for the region was transferred to them by NATO. it is also the first time in fourteen years that the Taliban have managed to gain control of a major urban centre.
Ayoub Salangi, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister, has announced that security forces are ready to retake the city. Heavy fighting has since been reported, with Afghan soldiers reclaiming strategic parts of the city. In support of these efforts, US forces have also conducted an air strike against entrenched Taliban positions. Casualties on both sides are believed to be high but precise numbers have yet to be disclosed.
In a message issued earlier today, the Taliban’s new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour said that President Ashraf Ghani’s unity government should admit defeat. “These conquests are result of almighty Allah’s support and the mujahideen (fighters) sacrifices,” he said. “Therefore, officials in Kabul have to admit their defeat with courage.” The Taliban leader’s comments coincided with the first anniversary of Ghani’s administration, which is likely to experience further setbacks as it attempts to revive the stalled peace negotiations.
A strategically important transport hub connecting Kabul in the south, Mazar-e-Sharif in the west and Tajikistan to the north, Kunduz was a key Taliban stronghold before the 2001 invasion. It is considered a gateway to the north and a known transit point for opium and heroin smuggling to Central Asia.