KABUL – Afghan forces retook control of the strategic northern city of Kunduz on Thursday after a three-day Taliban occupation that dealt a major blow to the country's NATO-trained military.
The fall of the provincial capital, even temporarily, highlights the stubborn insurgency's potential to expand beyond its rural strongholds in the south of the country.
Afghan forces, hamstrung by a slow arrival of reinforcements but backed by US air support, struggled to regain control of the city after three days of heavy fighting.
But on Thursday Afghan forces managed to reach the centre of the city and the streets were littered with Taliban bodies, Kunduz residents said, adding that fighting was still ongoing in parts of the city.
" (Afghan) special forces now control Kunduz City, it is retaken and being cleared (of) terrorists, heavy causality to the enemy," interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter.
Deputy Interior Minister Ayoub Salangi said the city had been recaptured after a "special operation" overnight.
Local residents reported deafening overnight bombardments, adding that the Taliban were still resisting Afghan forces in some parts of the city.
Security officials said the militants had slowly infiltrated Kunduz during the recent Eid festival, launching a Trojan horse attack that enabled them to capture it within hours on Monday.
The stunning fall of the city sent thousands of panicked residents fleeing as insurgents erected checkpoints across the city and were seen racing stolen police, UN and Red Cross vehicles.
It raised troubling questions about the capabilities of Afghan forces as they battle the militants largely on their own after NATO's combat mission ended last December.
The fall of the city coincided with the first anniversary of Ghani's national unity government.
It has renewed questions about Washington's plan to withdraw most US troops from Afghanistan next year.
Even after years of training and equipment purchases – on which Washington spent $65 billion – Afghan forces have been unable to rein in the ascendant insurgency. -- AFP