Afghan troops recaptured the center of the strategic northern city of Kunduz on Thursday amid fierce clashes with Taliban militants, three days after losing the provincial capital.
Fighting continued in other parts of the city, the seizure of which represented a major victory for the insurgents and raised questions over whether NATO-trained Afghan forces were ready to go it alone now most foreign combat troops have left, Reuters reported.
Residents said soldiers were conducting house-to-house searches and had removed the Taliban flag from the central square, replacing it with government colors.
“There are military helicopters in the sky and government forces everywhere,” said Abdul Ahad, a doctor in the city. “Dead Taliban are on the streets, but there are still [militants] in some government buildings fighting Afghan forces.”
A Taliban spokesman said fighters had withdrawn to the edges of the city in order to attempt to encircle Afghan and US troops.
US special forces accompanied and later fought alongside Afghan soldiers, the international military coalition confirmed, saying that they returned fire in self-defense.
The Afghan army’s deputy chief of staff, Murad Ali Murad, said most Taliban fighters had fled, although some were holed up in civilians’ homes.
A statement from the defense ministry said 150 Taliban had been killed and 90 wounded in the overnight offensive.
At least 30 people, mostly civilians, had been killed in the fighting as of Wednesday, according to a health ministry spokesman. He also said hospitals in Kunduz had treated about 340 wounded.
Wreckage from the battle was visible outside the city airport. Afghan soldiers said a burned out Humvee was hit by a US air strike, and the bodies of half a dozen dead Taliban fighters were scattered along the road and in a nearby orchard.
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