Questions over Afghan defences as troops clear Kunduz city

US special forces on standby to step in if needed as government forces take back control

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Afghan forces regained control of most of the northern city of Kunduz on Tuesday amid sporadic fighting, officials said, as questions arose over how Taliban militants once again managed to penetrate the city’s defences.

The US military in Kabul said that a “robust” group of special forces, as well as aircraft, were positioned near the city to provide support to Afghan soldiers should the need arise.

Insurgents slipped past government forces early on Monday and occupied or attacked central areas of Kunduz, almost exactly a year after they briefly captured the city in one of their biggest successes of the 15-year war.

Social media accounts linked to the Taliban, which taunted Afghan forces and their Western backers throughout Monday’s attack, said fighters were still inside Kunduz on Tuesday, with “clashes ongoing” and government troops “on the run”.

The attack in Kunduz, along with Taliban gains in areas of Helmand and Uruzgan where they also threaten provincial capitals, has underlined the group’s growing strength and exposed weaknesses in Afghanistan’s defences.

Government representatives are meeting international donors in Brussels this week to try to secure billions of dollars in additional aid.

Questions dogged Afghan security forces on Tuesday, with the US military reporting it saw little evidence of significant fighting as the Taliban moved in.

Some witnesses said many police had abandoned checkpoints without firing a shot, a month after a similar scene played out during a Taliban raid on the provincial capital of Uruzgan province, Tarin Kot.

“The police did not fight yesterday,” said Commander Ali, a local militia chief who, like many Afghans, only goes by one name. “Some fought in a few places, but a majority of them escaped without any resistance.”

He estimated that about 200 Taliban attackers quickly sent thousands of security personnel, mostly police, fleeing to the army base near the city’s airport.

That account was supported by another local police commander, who said senior leadership had failed to back up those police officers who did fight, while the army arrived after the fact.

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