Taliban attack Afghan city of Kunduz KUNDUZ: Explosions echoed across Kunduz as Afghan commandos began to push back a Taliban assault Monday, forcing residents to shelter in their homes one year after militants briefly seized the strategic provincial capital.
Government helicopters were targeting gunmen from the air in a bid to repel the attack, a day before President Ashraf Ghani is due to meet world powers at a major donors conference in Brussels.
“People of Kunduz are panicked and trying to flee but they are caught in the middle of fighting,” Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani, Kunduz provincial council member, told AFP.
“Please help us to get rid of this chaos and crises, or our people will be killed,” he said, warning the province was on the verge of collapse.
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Afghan commandos flown in from Kabul and led by the army chief of staff boosted local forces as they began pushing the insurgents back to the city’s outskirts, the provincial governor’s office said Monday afternoon.
Special forces could be seen in the streets and some shops and businesses briefly reopened even as the sounds of fighting continued, an AFP correspondent said.
“Their attack has been repelled and the security forces are retaking the areas they had lost,” governor Assadullah Omerkhil told reporters there, adding that “tens” of Taliban had been killed.
But others warned the city was not yet secure.
“The intense fighting is still ongoing,” said provincial council head Yousuf Ayubi, while the governor’s spokesman Mahmood Danish said battles continued inside the city and on its outskirts.
Danish also said the militants were sheltering in civilian homes.
“Since early morning we’ve been trapped inside our houses,” Kunduz resident Abdullah, 28, told AFP earlier.
Dr Naeem Mangal, head of the Kunduz central hospital, said 43 civilians wounded by bullets and shrapnel had been brought in, with one dead body.
The Afghan interior ministry said one policeman had been killed and four wounded. It was not clear if they were included in the hospital’s toll.
The insurgents, who are known to exaggerate their claims, said they had killed multiple soldiers and were making “rapid” progress through the city’s neighbourhoods.
Fighting was also reported along the Kunduz-Baghlan highway.
Kabul officials downplayed the strength of the attack, while NATO said it was aware of “ongoing sporadic fighting” and was working to assist Afghan forces in the area, including with air support.
“At this point, we are not observing evidence via our internal means to support the reports that Kunduz is under significant attack,” said NATO spokesman Brigadier General Charles Cleveland.
The attack comes just over a year after the Taliban overran Kunduz, the only provincial capital to have fallen into their hands since they were ousted from power in 2001.
Government control of the city has been shaky ever since.
During that attack Afghan forces were in disarray and US Green Beret special operations troops ended up helping the fight over several gruelling days, according to a declassified US military report.
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On Monday, however, the Afghan interior ministry said security forces were “fighting bravely against the terrorists”.
Ghani will meet with world leaders in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday in a bid to secure financial aid from the international community up to 2020.
The meeting, 15 years after the US invasion of 2001, will try to drum up support despite donor fatigue compounded by conflicts in Syria and Iraq plus the worst migration crisis since World War II.
Financial support is “crucial”, officials said ahead of the conference, whose attendees include US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“Nobody can afford for Afghanistan to destabilise again,” a senior EU official said.
Monday’s violence came as six people were killed in a blast in northern Jawzjan province, and as a suicide bomber killed a police district chief in the volatile southern province of Helmand.
On Sunday, the Taliban issued a statement accusing foreign contractors of pocketing aid money, and calling for the conference to result in the withdrawal of international forces.
After seizing Kunduz on September 28, 2015, the Taliban held the city for two days and eventually announced they were withdrawing from the outskirts on October 15. More than 280 people were killed and hundreds wounded.
A US airstrike during the fighting hit a hospital operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres on October 3, killing 42 people.