Taliban Storms Into Northern Afghan City In Major Blow For Security Forces

From Washington Post:
KABUL — Taliban insurgents fought their way into a major city in northern Afghanistan on Monday, driving back stunned security forces in a multi-pronged attack that also sent Afghan officials and U.N. personnel fleeing for safety.

The fall of Kunduz would be a huge blow to the Western-backed government in Kabul and would give Taliban insurgents a critical base of operations beyond their traditional strongholds in Afghanistan’s south. Afghan government leaders and the U.S.-led coalition here view the battle for Kunduz as a key test of the Afghan security forces in their continuing fight with the Taliban.

For the moment, Afghan officials acknowledged, much of the city is in Taliban hands, and Afghan authorities were left struggling over how to turn the tide, although they insisted that they would prevail once they mount a counterattack.

The assault began shortly before dawn when hundreds of Taliban fighters advanced into the city from four directions. Although Afghan security units were backed by helicopter gunships, the Taliban took over a 200-bed hospital and overran the local prison, freeing hundreds of prisoners. From there, they seized the office of the governor, who was not in the city at the time.

The militant group posted triumphant pictures to Twitter showing Taliban fighters hoisting their white-and-black flag throughout the city.

Kunduz, a hub for the country’s once relatively stable grain region about 150 miles north of Kabul, would hand the Taliban one of the linchpins of Afghanistan’s economy. It was the last Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan in November 2001, when the group’s grip on the country collapsed in the face of opposition fighters and U.S. airstrikes.

If Taliban fighters succeed in keeping control of Kunduz, it would be the first time in 14 years that they have seized and held a city.

On a broader level, the attack displays the Taliban’s battlefield power and coordination even as the radical Islamist insurgency faces internal discord following the acknowledgment in the summer of the death of its longtime leader, Mohammad Omar.

The U.S. military still has 9,800 troops in Afghanistan, but it was unclear Monday whether any American personnel were stationed near the fighting in Kunduz.

Army Col. Brian Tribus, a military spokesman, said that the American-organized coalition has not conducted any recent airstrikes in Kunduz but that it was providing intelligence and surveillance support to the Afghan army. Coalition forces “train, advise and assist” the Afghan military, but Tribus declined to discuss specifics of the mission, citing concerns about operational security. [...]

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