Taliban forces pressed their advantage in the key northern city of Kunduz Wednesday, launching further assaults on government forces and ambushing reinforcements sent from the capital, officials said.
The Taliban took control of the strategic city on Monday after a surprise assault involving hundreds of fighters pushed government forces back to the local airport.
“The Taliban still hold their positions. The reinforcements from Kabul and Takhar have been ambushed and could not reach Kunduz,” said Sayed Asadullah Sadat, a Kunduz provincial council member.
“I seriously doubt the government’s capability to retake Kunduz if they cannot even send reinforcements successfully,” he said.
Afghan forces and government officials were besieged on the airport hill as the insurgents launched assaults all of Tuesday night.
Some US and NATO coalition forces were supporting Afghan troops trying to retake the city from the militants, an official said.
“There are limited coalition forces in the Kunduz area advising and assisting, in accordance with our Resolute Support mission,” said Colonel Brian Tribus, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan.
US forces conducted three airstrikes in Kunduz, two of them in the vicinity of the Kunduz airport, he said, “for coalition force protection reasons.”
Meanwhile, the Afghan parliament summoned members of the security council, including the intelligence chief, the interior minister, and the acting defence minister, to question about the fall of Kunduz.
“It is shameful how the government is dealing with the situation in Kunduz,” said Iqbal Safi, a parliamentarian, during a televised session. He called on Ghani to quit.
Rahmatullah Nabil, the head of the Afghan spy agency, apologized for failing to thwart the Taliban attack.
Lawmakers also asked for an official investigation into why Kunduz fell, and where the Taliban got their weapons.
Though the Afghan government promised a counter-offensive on Kunduz, security forces did not make any headway on Tuesday, officials said.
Foreign troops had supported the Afghan forces from the ground and from the air during the night battles, Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini said.
The Afghan intelligence agency in a statement issued late on Tuesday said that an airstrike had killed Mawlawi Abdul Salam, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Kunduz province, and a dozen other fighters.
But the Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied the claim, saying he was still leading the Taliban assault on the airport hill.
At least 33 people were said to have been killed, officials said Tuesday.
Essa Khan, a resident of Kunduz city, said that he saw “a lot of injured people, mostly civilians, running for treatment to hospitals,” due to US airstrikes.
“The city is totally shut. People do not have food to eat and gas to cook. What is left with them is quickly depleting,” he told dpa.
“Last night Taliban attacked the airport, but there were airstrikes which caused fatalities among the Taliban and forced them to retreat,” he said, adding the government forces were all hunkered down on the airport hill.
“Right now I can’t even escape to any neighbouring provinces because there is a heavy fighting ongoing on the highway on either side. There is nowhere to go,” he said.
Baryalai, another resident, said there was no fighting at noon.
“There is no re-taking operation ongoing. Anything the government says is a lie, because we have not seen any reinforcements coming from any provinces,” he said, who resides near the airport hill.
A top United Nations official in Afghanistan said he was deeply concerned about the situation in Kunduz.
“The reports of extrajudicial executions, including of healthcare workers, abductions, denial of medical care and restrictions on movement out of the city are particularly disturbing,” said Nicholas Haysom, the special representative of the UN Secretary General.
Kunduz was the first major city to be taken by the Taliban in 14 years of conflict since they were ousted, and highlighted the Islamist movement’s ability to mount large operations away from its rural strongholds.