The Afghan Ministry of Interior announced that the siege in Kunduz has ended. The Taliban insurgents have reportedly been defeated.
Afghan troops backed by US airstrikes reportedly managed to take back key sections of the embattled city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, which had been seized by the Taliban on Monday. Details of the operation and which areas were under government control were not immediately clear.
Despite the overnight US bombing of Taliban positions, the militants had extended their grip on Kunduz through Wednesday, forcing government troops to retreat before returning with an offensive ousting the Taliban from the city.
"(Kunduz) is retaken and being cleared from terrorists, heavy casualty to the enemy," Interior Ministry Spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter.
"After we got reinforcement and started a massive operation inside Kunduz city Taliban could not resist and escaped," Hamdullah Danishi, acting governor of Kunduz, told Reuters news agency.
Coordinated military effort
US airstrikes Tuesday and Wednesday had hit Taliban positions during fierce fighting for control of Kunduz's airport, a few miles outside the city, before the Taliban began to retreat under fire, according to local residents. The airport was one of the few locations that remained in Afghan government hands throughout the siege.
Afghan military planners, backed by US and NATO advisers, brought in units from across the nation's security forces, including the army, air force, police, special forces and commandos.
US Army spokesman Col. Brian Tribus had said US and NATO coalition advisers, including special forces, were also at the scene "in the Kunduz area, advising Afghan security forces."
Retaking Kunduz was "another test" for Afghanistan's armed forces, Tribus added.
A Taliban spokesman denied Kunduz had been retaken by the government, claiming "the Taliban flag is still flying" over the city, AP news agency reported. Heavy street fighting was still underway Thursday, with many residents holed up in their homes.
Residents were cut off and under distress
Residents had reported increasing distress as insurgents put the city under virtual lockdown, blocking roads and setting up checkpoints to prevent people from leaving. The roadblocks also kept essential supplies of food and medicine from reaching the city of some 300,000 people.
Afghan special forces arrive for a battle with the Taliban in Kunduz City, aided by US Military airstrikes
Local bakeries were selling stale bread at inflated prices and residents reported woeful shortages of water, medicines and electricity, as many people hunkered down in their homes amid the frequent gunfire. Kunduz residents also detailed acts of violence, including torching and looting of government buildings, businesses and the compounds of non-government organizations, including the UN.
Failing long-term strategy
The situation in Kunduz has heightened concerns among US military commanders that current plans to cut the number of American troops in Afghanistan may be premature. Afghan forces have been fighting alone only since the withdrawal last year of NATO combat troops, and the learning curve has been steep with casualties high.
In May, US President Barack Obama had said that by the end of 2015 the American force in Afghanistan would be roughly half of the current total of about 10,000 and would operate only from bases in the capital, Kabul, and Bagram, a giant air base near that city.
The original plan was to reduce the force to just a few hundred by the end of 2016, mainly to protect the embassy and other US interests. In the light of the latest crisis, the US may opt to reconsider deployment numbers in Afghanistan – despite severe budgetary cutbacks.
An Afghan National Army soldier carries a colleague who was wounded during an offensive with Taliban insurgents in Kunduz
The protracted crisis was also a major challenge for President Ashraf Ghani, who took office a year ago pledging to restore peace to Afghanistan.
Reports from the region indicated that up to 6,000 civilians had fled the city to escape the fighting.
ss/bw (Reuters, AP, AFP)