Taliban fighters battled their way into the center of Kunduz, a city in northern Afghanistan, and seized the provincial governor’s office in one of the militant group’s biggest territorial gains in 14 years.
The insurgents raised their white banner over the central square and freed hundreds of fellow militants from the local jail after government forces abandoned the provincial headquarters, Reuters reported, citing witnesses and officials.
The stunning assault came a day before President Ashraf Ghani’s unity government marks its first anniversary, and will further complicate efforts to resume stalled peace negotiations.
It was the second time this year that the hardline Islamist movement has besieged Kunduz, a city defended by Afghan forces battling largely without NATO’s support after it withdrew most of its troops last year.
The insurgents launched a surprise, three-pronged offensive before dawn, and by evening had captured the governor’s compound and provincial police headquarters, said Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the hardline Islamist movement.
“Our fighters are now advancing toward the airport,” Mujahid said on Twitter.
Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi later confirmed that “most of Kunduz city has fallen to the Taliban”, and said Afghan forces were regrouping at the airport.
The Kunduz assault marks a troubling development in the insurgency, although government forces have managed to drive the Taliban back from most of the territory gained this year during an escalation in violence.
“It is certainly the first major breach of a provincial capital since 2001,” said Graeme Smith, senior analyst for International Crisis Group. “They are choking the Afghan forces from all sides. It looks pretty grim.”
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