The Taliban launched two large-scale, coordinated assaults on opposite ends of Afghanistan on Monday, attacking a northern city from several directions and killing a police chief in the south where they threatened to overrun a district in the insurgents’ heartland of Helmand. Officials in northern Kunduz province and in Helmand described fierce, well-planned operations, involving a large number of gunmen who attacked under cover of darkness.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, attacks on civilians and soldiers claimed at least seven more lives on Monday. The attacks came as President Ashraf Ghani prepared to head to Brussels for a key international aid conference this week, where he expects donors to pledge USD 3 billion a year in assistance for his impoverished, war-torn nation. The Kunduz attack came a year after the insurgents took control of the city and held off Afghan security forces, backed by US troops and air power, for several days there.
Residents and officials said the fighters attacked from all directions Monday’s assault. Mahmood Danish, spokesman for the Kunduz provincial governor, said security forces managed to keep them at bay. The Interior Ministry said a policeman was killed and four were wounded in the ongoing fighting. A ministry statement said the situation was being monitored in case reinforcements are needed.
Kunduz is the capital of the strategically important Kunduz province, a breadbasket region that borders Tajikistan to the north and sits on a major crossroad in the country. The city was overrun by the Taliban in September 2015, the first time the militant group had taken a major urban center since launching the insurgency 15 years ago. Kunduz came under threat again in April, when Afghan forces aided by US troops and air power pushed the Taliban back into the surrounding districts.
In the attack, the Taliban used residential areas in Kunduz and Afghan “security forces are being very careful to avoid civilian casualties while shooting back at the enemy,” said Danish. The Afghan air force was also supporting the ground forces in the fight, he added.
The US military spokesman in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland said the Kunduz situation was being monitored but that the international alliance was not seeing evidence “to support the reports that Kunduz is under significant attack.”
Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, head of the Kunduz provincial council, said the heavy battles had forced government offices, schools and shops in Kunduz to close.