Taliban insurgents launched a massive assault on the northern city of Kunduz, seizing a courthouse, a hospital and other government buildings, and freeing hundreds of inmates from a prison, despite a series of battles with government forces. Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told The Associated Press that “Kunduz city has collapsed into the hands of the Taliban.” The fast-moving assault took military and intelligence agencies by surprise as the insurgents descended on the city. It marked the first time the insurgents have seized a major urban area since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
The fall of the city, which has a population in excess of 300,000, marks a major setback for Afghan government forces, who have struggled to combat the Taliban with limited aid from the U.S. and NATO. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack on his Twitter account, saying the fighters were entering hospitals around the city hunting for wounded government troops. He advised residents to remain indoors.
The strategically located Kunduz, a major producer of grain and other food, is one of Afghanistan’s wealthiest cities. The Taliban previously attacked the city in April, in its first major advance into an urban area, but were pushed back by Afghan security forces. The Taliban is since believed to have regrouped and allied with other insurgents.