The Taliban have attacked Kunduz, one of the largest cities in Afghanistan, just as President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah left for a European Union conference on Afghan development in Brussels.
The coordinated Taliban attacks across the northern province of Kunduz also extended to neighboring Baghlan province, where the officer in-charge at Baghlan police headquarters, Amin Gul Husainkhail, said “security forces have inflicted heavy losses to Taliban.”
“We are trying to eliminate them. We have cleared several villages. Taliban’s attack on Baghlan has failed,” he claimed.
Local media reported the Taliban kicked students out of school and were forcing residents to flee their homes.
In Kunduz, it’s the first anniversary of the accidental U.S. airstrike on a trauma hospital that killed 42, including 14 staff of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières.
Local media reported that most if not all NGOs were now preparing to evacuate the city.
In Kunduz’s central square, Taliban fighters posed for reporters and were praying on the pavement.
#kunduz: Taliban in the center of the city . pic.twitter.com/B7x2iaqqVM
— Qiam Noori (@QiamNoori) October 3, 2016
BREAKING: Taliban entered #Kunduz City, Afghan Army Defence Lines Collapse. #Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/d3gk9Yp3Jb
— GAZAUI NEWS AGENCY (@GazauiNews) October 3, 2016
“Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate launched attacks on Kunduz city from 4 directions early this morning amid the ongoing ‘Omari’ annual campaign,” the Taliban said in a statement on their website. “Officials report that Mujahideen have reached the main city square after overrunning the other parts of the city, taking over tens of check posts, police stations and bases in the process as well seizing military gear, killing and wounding dozens of hireling troops and forcing the rest to flee.” The Taliban regularly inflate death tolls and destruction reports in their news releases.
“Officials are saying that Mujahideen are currently attacking and advancing on the governor compound, police HQ and the main prison,” they added.
Taliban spokesman Zabihulla Mujahid tweeted that Afghan fighters — said to be from the National Directorate of Security, according to Afghan reporters — had “fled from all parts” of the city, while reporters said they controlled pockets of Kunduz but not critical centers like the airport.
“Pure white Prophetic flag symbolizing loftiness of the Word of Allah once again being raised over the main #Kunduz intersection,” tweeted Mujahid. “Efforts underway to quickly establish normalcy in #Kunduz so people restart work, Mujahidin are treating people with kindness.”
Resolute Support Mission, the U.S.-led NATO effort remaining in Afghanistan, tweeted, “We are aware of reports of ongoing sporadic fighting in Kunduz & are coordinating closely with our Afghan partners to assist.”
Several hours ago, Resolute Support noted the mission was “not observing evidence via our internal means to support the reports that Kunduz is under significant attack.”
Two hours after that tweet, they added, “U.S. enablers, including air power, are in position and prepared to assist in Kunduz as needed.”
“Our #AFG partners are responding to increased Taliban activity in #Kunduz & US forces have multiple assets & enablers within area to support.”
It’s bad timing for Ghani and Abdullah as they seek donor support for reconstruction and development in Brussels. Up to 70 countries and 20 international organizations and agencies are participating in the conference, according to the EU, which will focus on “efforts to increase the effectiveness of sustained international support and funding,” “Afghan reform efforts, including on economic reform, rule of law, improved public finance management and anti-corruption so as to ensure the provision of the most important services and public goods,” and “regional efforts to support a political process towards peace and cross-border economic cooperation.”