Afghanistan on Tuesday mobilised reinforcements for a counter-offensive to take back Kunduz, a day after Taliban insurgents overran the strategic northern city in their biggest victory since being ousted from power in 2001.
Afghan security forces have retreated to the outlying airport, leaving the Taliban effectively in control of Kunduz after they stormed the city on Monday, capturing government buildings and freeing hundreds of prisoners.
The stunning fall of the provincial capital, which has sent panicked residents fleeing, has dealt a major blow to the country’s NATO-trained security forces and spotlighted the insurgency’s potential to expand beyond its rural strongholds.
“Yes, the enemy is in the city and they have taken over the prison and other buildings, but reinforcements are being deployed and the city will be taken back,” interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.
Deputy Interior Minister Ayoub Salangi said security forces were ready to retake the city and vowed to investigate how the Taliban managed to seize a major urban centre for the first time in 14 years.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid posted a triumphant picture on Twitter purportedly showing fighters raising the group’s trademark white flag at a roundabout in the city centre.
Marauding insurgents stormed the local jail, freeing hundreds of prisoners including some Taliban commanders, officials said.
Kunduz was swarming with Taliban fighters racing stolen police vehicles, who officials said overran the governor’s compound and the local police headquarters.
The local headquarters of the National Directorate of Security, the country’s main intelligence agency, was set on fire and a 200-bed government bed was also captured.
Scores of unidentified bodies littered the streets after hours of heavy fighting, said local residents, many of whom were making a hasty exit from Kunduz — some by road while others headed to the airport.