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Afghanistan: US warplanes blaze path for ground attack

Climate of fear in Kunduz after Taliban seizure

by Our Foreign Desk

US JETS blitzed the northern Afghan city of Kunduz yesterday in preparation for a government counteroffensive against the Taliban.

Afghan troops were marshalled near the city of 300,000 inhabitants that fell to a well-co-ordinated Taliban surprise attack on Monday.

Taliban guerillas were seen planting bombs and mines on roads in the city in preparation for the coming assault.

US Army spokesman Colonel Brian Tribus said that there had been two new air strikes and that US and Nato coalition personnel, including special forces, were at the scene “advising Afghan security forces.”

Overnight there was fighting for control of Kunduz airport, a few miles outside the city, before the Taliban retreated under fire.

Roads in and out of the city were blocked and the Taliban, believed to have joined forces with other insurgent groups to boost their numbers, were said to be forcing boys and young men to fight with them.

During Monday’s assault, guerillas freed 600 prisoners from the city’s prison, among them 144 who had been jailed for membership of the Taliban.

Information from inside the city remained limited. Kunduz residents have described an atmosphere of fear and reported arbitrary acts of ­violence, such as burning and looting of government buildings, shuttered businesses and the compounds of non-governmental organisations, including the UN.

Roadblocks were preventing delivery of food, medicines and other supplies into the city.

Public Health Ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said that 30 people had been killed in the fighting so far and more than 200 inured.

“Around 90 per cent of them are civilians,” he said.

On Tuesday, US military leaders exploited the fall of Kunduz to call for at least several thousand troops to be kept in Afghanistan after the official withdrawal date at the end of 2016.

US President Barack Obama has pledged to reduce the US force in the country from almost 10,000 personnel today to a 1,000-strong “security co-operation” force before he leaves office in January 2017.

But Army General John Campbell wants more troops working with Afghan forces, leaving the decision on final withdrawal to the next US ­government.

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