NATO on Wednesday said its special forces had joined Afghan troops in Kunduz to try to push back Taliban insurgents who seized the city, repelled a counter-offensive and advanced on the airport to shore up their biggest victory in 14 years.
Heavy fighting was underway near the northern city’s airport, where government forces are holed-up; highlighting the potent challenge the militants pose after their lightning capture of Kunduz.
The Taliban also captured the military hilltop of Bala Hisar on Wednesday, tightening their grip on Kunduz and leaving all but the airport under the control of Afghan forces.
The Taliban’s occupation — now in its third day — raises troubling questions about the capabilities of Afghan forces as they battle the militants largely on their own after NATO’s combat mission ended last December.
The Afghan army was supposed to be bolstered by its own reinforcements for the campaign to retake Kunduz, but Taliban ambushes on convoys headed for the city meant that back-up troops were only trickling in.
“The Taliban have laid landmines and booby traps around Kunduz, slowing the movement of convoys of Afghan army reinforcements driving to the city,” an Afghan security official said.
NATO said the foreign special forces had reached Kunduz and US forces had conducted three air strikes around the city since Tuesday to support the Afghan troops.
The forces are comprised of US, British and German troops, a Western military source said on condition of anonymity.