Afghan troops say Kunduz retaken; Taliban claim they’re pushing back – CNN

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN)After the stinging blow of losing the city of Kunduz to the Taliban, the Afghan government says it has now reclaimed most of the provincial capital in a big operation backed by U.S. airstrikes.

But the shock waves of the Taliban’s sudden seizure of the major northern city on Monday, their biggest victory in nearly 15 years, continue to reverberate.

Afghan forces were still clearing insurgents out of various parts of Kunduz on Thursday morning after launching the operation to retake it the night before, government officials said.

But a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, insisted the militants weren’t done fighting in the city yet and had regained ground since the government’s advance. The group also remains in control of at least two districts in the rest of Kunduz province.

The Taliban’s takeover of Kunduz city was the first time they had driven government forces out of a provincial capital since the Islamic extremist group was ousted from power in 2001.

The defeat intensified doubts about Afghan troops’ ability to take on the militants now that the U.S.-led coalition has stepped back from front-line combat. It also showed the Islamic extremist group’s resilience despite recent internal divisions under its new leader.

    Why is the Taliban takeover of Kunduz a big deal?

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    Questions still remain about the government’s ability to protect Kunduz, a strategic hub on the main highway between the Afghan capital and Tajikistan, an important trade route.

    The Taliban attack Monday in which government officials say the militants cunningly “infiltrated” the city was preceded by a months-long buildup of insurgent forces in the surrounding region. And yet the Afghan security forces, who outnumbered their enemy, appeared unprepared or unwilling to defend it.

    After losing Kunduz on Monday, Afghan troops initially struggled to retake it. Many of them remained dug in at the airport on the outskirts of the city while the Taliban prevented reinforcements from getting through from neighboring Baghlan province.

    The situation on the ground in and around Kunduz has often appeared confused, with the Taliban and the government both claiming to have gained ground and inflicted heavy casualties on each other.

    The Afghan Defense Ministry said the operation to retake the city had killed 150 Taliban fighters. But it didn’t provide any information about casualties on the government side.

    Hundreds of civilians wounded

    Many civilians were caught up in the fighting and thousands fled Kunduz, according to the United Nations. They left by truck, rickshaw or horse — and some on foot.

    Nicholas Haysom, the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, said that under Taliban control of the city there were reports of “extrajudicial executions, including of health care workers, abductions, denial of medical care and restrictions on movement.”

    One male resident of Kunduz told CNN on Wednesday that shops were closed, there was a citywide power blackout and it was becoming difficult to find food.

    “Kunduz has turned into a ghost city,” the man said, reporting that he had been hurt by shrapnel after getting caught in a firefight. He spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing retribution.

    Pictures and video posted to social media from Kunduz after the government said it had retaken control showed citizens out on the streets.

    Doctors Without Borders said its trauma hospital in the city has been overwhelmed with patients. The aid organization reported that its doctors treated at least 252 wounded people, including 53 children, since Monday.

    “The majority of patients had sustained gunshot wounds, and surgeons have been treating severe abdominal, limb and head injuries,” Doctors Without Borders said in a statement. Anticipating more casualties, the organization was rushing medical supplies by road and air to the city.

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