Newspaper article International New York Times

Intense Fight as Afghan Army Enters Kunduz ; Many Flee Provinces across North Fearing a Broad Taliban Assault

Newspaper article International New York Times

Intense Fight as Afghan Army Enters Kunduz ; Many Flee Provinces across North Fearing a Broad Taliban Assault

Article excerpt

Afghan security forces had advanced as far as a roundabout near the city's entrance, a provincial official said, but the situation appeared to be fluid as fighting continued.

Afghan government forces on Thursday rallied for the first time in four days against Taliban fighters who had taken the city of Kunduz, engaging in heavy fighting near the city center, residents and government officials said.

By nightfall, however, witnesses said the battle for Kunduz was still undecided. People caught in the city described cowering in their homes as shrapnel flew, and the occasional mortar shell or rocket crashed down.

The long-awaited response by government forces in Kunduz was not enough to reassure civilians in neighboring provinces, as the outlines of a broad Taliban offensive across northern Afghanistan became clearer.

Some in the nearby provincial capitals -- Pul-i-Kumri, in Baghlan Province south of Kunduz, and Taloqan in Takhar Province, to the west -- said they were preparing to leave rather than risk being trapped in a Taliban assault.

In Takhar, people were further unnerved by reports that a northern district of the province had fallen to the Taliban on Thursday morning. And Afghan officials from the far northeastern province of Badakhshan said on Thursday night that Warduj District had fallen to the Taliban.

"People are in a state of fear here," said Ahmad Khallid, a resident of Kunduz City who had fled to Taloqan on Thursday. He said that as he walked around the city, he kept seeing other Kunduz residents who had sought refuge. But Takhar residents were talking about getting out. "The people in Takhar are also preparing to leave. They fear this city will fall more easily than Kunduz."

The prospect of a domino effect in the country's northeast with villages, districts and potentially another provincial capital falling under Taliban control was worrying Western military strategists as well. They believe that the longer the Taliban can stave off a decisive counteroffensive by the government, the more momentum the insurgents will gain.

In Washington, senior Pentagon and other government officials confirmed on Thursday that Kunduz had not yet been fully reclaimed from the Taliban, and expressed frustration and bewilderment at what they said was a slow, disjointed effort to carry out an effective counterattack.

"The military leadership here is really frustrated with the Afghan leadership," said one senior United States official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence and operations assessments. "They have not been able to maintain momentum."

The American official acknowledged the similarities with the sudden Islamic State offensive in northern and western Iraq last year, when the Iraqi security forces in Mosul and other spots melted away despite vastly outnumbering the attackers. …

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