By Tim Craig and Sayed Salahuddin,
KABUL — Afghan troops punctured the Taliban’s grip on the northern city of Kunduz Thursday, pushing into the center of the city as part of a U.S.-backed counter-offensive aimed at restoring public confidence in the country’s beleaguered military.
Four days after Taliban militants seized control of Kunduz, Afghan Special Forces started the operation late Wednesday night. By 4 a.m. Thursday, Afghanistan’s interior ministry claimed the city was back under the control of the government.
That claim could not be independently confirmed, however, and fighting between Taliban militants and government forces continued throughout pockets of the key Afghan city with shooting from people’s homes and in alleyways, witnesses said.
“The city was taken by our special forces,” Sediq Sediqqi, an interior ministry spokesman, said in a late-night interview.
Other Afghan officials were more circumspect, however.
“Parts of the city have come under the control of the government with the cooperation of the people,” Afghanistan’s head of parliament, Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, said. “The fighting is still going on. There is no water, no power, shops are all closed, hospitals are not functioning.”
“We are urging the president to continue the operation in villages and districts of Kunduz so that the terrorists and Taliban … are totally cleared from there,” he said.
As the sun rose, television footage from the city showed Afghan troops once again stationed in the main city square. An Afghan soldier could be seen removing the Taliban’s white flag and replacing it with an Afghan flag.
Government leaders said scores of Taliban fighters had been killed overnight.
The army “entered part of the city this morning, followed by police,” said Nasir Ahmad Waqif, a local Afghan journalist stationed in Kunduz. “The Taliban have retreated from the main parts of the city but are in the alleys and in some people’s homes from where they are firing on government forces.”
The Afghan government’s claim of a quick overnight victory in Kunduz is clouded by past declarations of military success that were quickly proven to be exaggerated.
In a statement, the Taliban conceded it had briefly lost control over parts of the city overnight but added it is now “beating back” Afghan forces.
Still, …Read More