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Afghan Forces Await Kunduz Reinforcements

Afghan special forces in Kunduz city, September 29.
Afghan special forces in Kunduz city, September 29.

An expected Afghan government counteroffensive to retake Kunduz from the Taliban appears largely stalled as troops await reinforcements.

News reports say that some 5,000 Afghan soldiers -- exhausted by three days of fighting with insurgents -- have massed at the airport on the fringe of the city.

However, the arrival of reinforcements from neighboring Baghlan Province, south of Kunduz, is delayed as insurgents have attacked convoys making their way to the city.

A U.S. Army spokesman, Colonel Brian Tribus, said there were two new air strikes overnight on Taliban forces and that U.S. and NATO coalition advisers were at the scene "in the Kunduz area, advising Afghan security forces."

He added that among NATO experts backing Afghan troops were the coalition's special forces advisers.

Meanwhile, Afghan lawmakers are calling on President Ashraf Ghani to resign over the fall of Kunduz.

The city is the first major urban center to be taken by insurgents since the Taliban was toppled in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Ghani's deputy spokesman, Sayed Zafar Hashemi, says the president had ordered an investigation into how Kunduz fell so quickly on September 28.

He added that Afghan troops were making progress in retaking parts of the city.

Sayed Sarwar Hussaini, a spokesman for the police chief in Kunduz, said Afghan security forces had regained control of the police headquarters in Kunduz late on September 29.

Afghanistan's intelligence agency said September 29 that an air strike had killed Mawlawi Salam, the Taliban's shadow governor for Kunduz Province, and 15 others on the outskirts of the airport.

The claim could not be independently verified and a Taliban source denied the reports of Salam's death.

Residents fleeing the city say most civilians have locked themselves in their homes for fear of renewed fighting and of Taliban militants searching for government loyalists.

Folad Hamdad, a local freelance journalist who escaped to neighboring Takhar Province, said Taliban gunmen were going door to door "searching for government officials, local police commanders, anyone they can think of. No one is safe."

Amnesty International said the Taliban is exposing civilians to grave danger by "hiding in people's houses and conducting door-to-door searches for Afghan security personnel or government staff."

A top United Nations official in Afghanistan said September 30 that he was deeply concerned about the situation in Kunduz.

Nicholas Haysom, the special representative of the UN secretary-general, said "the reports of extrajudicial executions, including of health care workers, abductions, denial of medical care, and restrictions on movement out of the city are particularly disturbing."

Wahidullah Maya, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, said on Twitter that 30 people had been killed and more than 200 injured in Kunduz fighting. He said around 90 percent of them were civilians.

Acting Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai said September 29 that that the Taliban fighters had allied with other insurgent groups to take Kunduz.

He said the other groups include militants who came from neighboring Pakistan after being driven out by a military offensive, as well as from China and Central Asia.

Kunduz and its surrounding province of the same name are of high strategic and economic importance to both the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The region is one of the country's chief bread baskets and has rich mining assets. It lies on a strategic crossroads connecting Afghanistan to Pakistan, China, and Central Asia.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP