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Afghan Forces Retake Kunduz

An Afghan security vehicle advances towards Kunduz city on September 30.
An Afghan security vehicle advances towards Kunduz city on September 30.

Afghan officials say government troops have recaptured much of the strategic northern city of Kunduz from Taliban insurgents, three days after losing control of the provincial capital in an embarrassing defeat for Kabul and its allies.

In a statement on October 1, the Afghan Defense Ministry said 150 militants were killed in the overnight operation and that the city of Kunduz was now clear of insurgents. It added that there had been no civilian casualties.

A Taliban spokesman denied the government had retaken Kunduz, telling Reuters that insurgent fighters were still resisting government forces in the center and controlled most of the rest of the city.

AFP, citing eyewitnesses in Kunduz, said Afghan forces were seen in the center of the city and the streets were littered with Taliban bodies. It said fighting was still ongoing in parts of the city.

President Ashraf Ghani was briefed on October 1 on the situation in Kunduz by Afghan military commanders involved in the operation.

According to a statement from his office, Ghani plans to send a delegation to Kunduz to investigate the circumstances leading up to the Taliban seizure of the city. Ghani said those who "neglected their duties will be punished."

Afghan forces, backed by U.S. air strikes, had been struggling for two days to retake the city, after it became the first provincial capital to fall into Taliban hands since 2001.

"Afghan security forces got control of Kunduz city from Taliban overnight after heavy fighting," Hamdullah Danishi, who was named acting governor of Kunduz Province on September 30, told Reuters.

Danishi was appointed to the position after Governor Mohammad Omer Safi, whose apparent absence abroad during the crisis was the source of criticism, returned to Kabul and vowed in an interview with RFE/RL to fight to his "last drop of blood" to retake Kunduz. The circumstances of his departure as governor are unclear.

"After we got reinforcements and started a massive operation inside Kunduz city, the Taliban could not resist and escaped," Danishi added. "We will give a full report soon."

"It is retaken and being cleared from terrorists, heavy casualty to the enemy," Interior Minister spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter.

There was no immediate word about any civilian casualties in the city of 300,000.

On September 28, the insurgents' predawn assault on Kunduz from four directions caught Afghan police and the army by surprise.

Almost the entire city had fallen into Taliban hands by nightfall, with government officials and forces retreating to the airport outside the city.

The city's capture was a blow to the narrative by the Kabul government and its U.S. backers that the NATO-trained Afghan National Police and National Army were steadily improving and able to prevent the Taliban from taking over and holding significant territory.

Training the 350,000-strong Afghan National Security Forces has been at the heart of the U.S. plan to end involvement in its longest war. U.S. and allied forces officially ended their combat role at the end of last year, leaving behind a training and advising force of several thousand.

The Taliban made recapture difficult by mining roads to block reinforcements arriving and launching an assault on the airport where some 5,000 government officials and troops were based.

U.S. and allied troops were dispatched to Kunduz to advise and assist the Afghan forces, with at least five U.S. air strikes hitting Taliban positions near the airport and on the city's outskirts.

Late on September 30, Afghan reinforcements broke through the Taliban defenses and reached the airport to prepare the ground for the counteroffensive.

Afghan Deputy Interior Ministry Mohammad Ayub Salangi praised the recapture on his Facebook page.

"I want to congratulate terrorist defeat in Kunduz to the great nation of Afghanistan and our international allies," he wrote.

With reporting by RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan, Reuters, and AFP