Afghanistan’s sixth largest city is under attack by Taliban fighters. U.S. forces have been called in to assist in the battle to drive the insurgents out of Kunduz – a strategic gateway to Central Asia.
Taliban forces seized Kunduz on Monday, dealing a major blow to Afghanistan’s Western-backed government. Early this morning a third airstrike was reported near the airport, which is a “key staging ground” for the Afghan military, and which Taliban fighters had been advancing toward.
A Kunduz official said Taliban fighters still control “large sections of the city,” including major government buildings, and that “a big operation” was needed to dislodge them.
The Afghan president said the city fell in part because government troops wanted to avoid civilian casualties and showed restraint when the Taliban fighters stormed in. Afghanistan’s U.N. chief executive blames Pakistan for the attack – saying legitimate terrorist elements are crossing into his country and victimizing his citizens.
A spokesman for the coalition, Col. Brian Tribus, told Reuters that US troops were sent to Kunduz to “train, advise and assist” Afghan forces. That statement marked the first time that coalition officials publicly confirmed they are actively involved in “boosting the Afghan troops on the ground there.”
The rules of engagement for U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan allow them to fight if they are threatened by insurgents.
According to the Washington Post, 6,800 American troops remain in Afghanistan as part of the coalition force. There are also 3,000 American troops in the country, to support or carry out U.S. counter-terrorism missions.
Security officials say supply lines to Kunduz have been interrupted and many fed-up residents are already starting to flee the northern city.
The Taliban assault was reportedly for publicity – to show that the group is still united despite internal disagreements over new leadership. The insurgency has escalated significantly this year, with the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.
Defense officials remain optimistic that Afghan forces will “quickly expel” the estimated 500 Taliban fighters from Kunduz.