Taliban fighters battled their way into the center of Kunduz city in northern Afghanistan yesterday and freed hundreds of fellow militants from jail, in one of the most serious security breaches in 14 years of war, witnesses and officials said.
The assault was the second time this year that the hardline Islamist movement has besieged Kunduz city, defended by Afghan forces battling largely without NATO’s support after it withdrew most of its troops last year.
The insurgents launched a three-sided surprise offensive at around dawn, and by mid-afternoon they had hoisted their white flag over Kunduz’s main square, about 200 meters from the governor’s compound, according to a Reuters witness.
The witness also said battles were raging in two districts nearby.
According to two security officials, Taliban gunmen, some armed with rocket-propelled grenades, overwhelmed security guards and broke into the main city prison, freeing hundreds of fighters.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan evacuated its Kunduz compound yesterday morning, soon after the assault began.
“They’ve been relocated within Afghanistan,” said U.N. spokesman Dominic Medley, declining to say where or how many staff were evacuated.
Abdullah Danishy, deputy governor of Kunduz, confirmed the insurgents were closing in.
“There is fierce fighting ongoing at Spin Ghar park, which is some half a kilometre (550 yards) away from the governor’s compound,” Danishy told Reuters by telephone from the city airport after fleeing his office.