Taliban fighters clashed with Afghan government forces near Kunduz airport on Tuesday, a day after the militants seized control of the northern city in arguably the biggest victory of their 14-year insurgency.
Heavy fighting just metres from the airport, where police and soldiers had retreated on Monday, suggested the Taliban were not going to be easily dislodged.
“There are no reinforcements yet in Kunduz, as the Taliban have destroyed parts of the Baghlan-Kunduz highway,” said Abdullah Danishy, a deputy governor of Kunduz. “They may join us tonight.”
Beleaguered security forces in Kunduz had been banking on support from other provinces, but in a well-coordinated operation, the Taliban have disrupted some supply routes.
“Now Afghan forces have started a counter-attack near the airport. We assure you that they haven’t entered the airport,” Mr Danishy added. “Our forces will not let them enter.“
The evening Taliban advance came despite the US military carrying out its first air strike in support of government troops since Kunduz fell.
It was the first time a provincial capital had fallen to the Taliban since the hardline Islamist movement was toppled from power in 2001 in the US-led military campaign.
The swift gains in Kunduz are a major setback for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which marked its first year in power on Tuesday, and raised questions over how ready Afghan forces were to tackle the Islamist insurgency alone.
Mr Ghani announced in a televised address that more reinforcements were on their way to regain the city, which he said had fallen partly because government troops had shown restraint to avoid civilian casualties. “The government is responsible, and cannot and will not bomb its own citizens,” he said.
Supply lines to Kunduz city have been disrupted by fighting in surrounding areas, according to western and Afghan security officials.
To the south, clashes in Baghlan province closed a main route from Kabul, while one convoy carrying security personnel was ambushed by the Taliban. – (Reuters)