UPDATE: 5:50 a.m. EDT -- At least 16 people have died, and over 170 people have been injured in the ongoing clashes in Kunduz, Wahidullah Mayar, a spokesman for the Afghan ministry of public health, said on Twitter Tuesday. The death toll is likely to rise as security forces begin an operation to retake the key northern city.
"[Security forces are] retaking government buildings ... and reinforcements, including special forces and commandos are either there or on their way there," Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reportedly said during a televised address to the nation Tuesday, adding that "the enemy has sustained heavy casualties."
UPDATE: 2:35 a.m. EDT -- The U.S. military carried out an airstrike on the northern Afghan city of Kunduz early Tuesday, the Associated Press (AP) reported, citing an army spokesman. As of now, the Taliban remain in control of the strategic city, after Taliban militants captured government buildings and freed hundreds of prisoners.
“[The airstrike was conducted] in order to eliminate a threat to the force,” U.S. Army Col. Brian Tribus, spokesman for the U.S. and NATO missions in Afghanistan, told AP, without providing further details.
Meanwhile, Afghan security forces -- who had retreated to an outlying airport Monday -- also launched a counterattack to try and retake the city.
“Yes, the enemy is in the city and they have taken over the prison and other buildings, but reinforcements are being deployed and the city will be taken back,” Afghan Interior Ministry Spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Agence France-Presse.
Hundreds of Afghan troops were deployed in Kunduz Tuesday, a day after the Taliban seized control of huge swathes of the northern city, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported, citing government officials. An operation to wrest control back from the Taliban is expected to be launched in the coming hours, a spokesman for the Kunduz provincial police reportedly said early Tuesday.
“[Afghan forces] will soon drive the Taliban insurgents out,” an unnamed government official told Tolo News, adding that troops had already arrived at the Kunduz airport -- to which government security forces had retreated following the Taliban’s advance.
The attack -- one of the most significant security breaches in the country in over a decade -- came as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani completes one year in office. The Taliban’s sudden victory in Kunduz, a city the group had besieged for months, also raises questions over the readiness of the country’s Western-trained security forces.
“The problem wasn’t lack of security forces,” Zalmai Farooqi, a district government from the Kunduz province, told the New York Times, adding that there might have been approximately 7,000 government troops in the area when the attack began. “But there was no good leadership to command these men.”
Government troops and officials retreated to the airport, on the outskirts, after militants overran the city, captured buildings and freed hundreds from jail. According to an estimate, at least two policemen and several Taliban militants were killed during the attack.
“The Taliban don’t need to try to hold on to the city with heavy casualties, and the way they have acted -- loot banks, burn buildings -- shows they don’t plan to hold it, either,” Haroun Mir, an Afghan political analyst, told the Times. “They don’t have the manpower in the north to hold a city as big as Kunduz. But they have achieved what they wanted, which is to strike a major blow to the government.”