KUNDUZ • Afghan troops backed by United States air support have launched a counter-offensive to retake Kunduz, a day after Taleban insurgents overran the strategic northern city in their biggest victory since being ousted from power in 2001.
The Taleban stormed Kunduz on Monday, capturing government buildings, freeing hundreds of prisoners and raising their trademark white flag throughout the city.
The stunning fall of the provincial capital, which has sent panicked residents fleeing, dealt a major blow to Afghanistan's Nato-trained security forces, and spotlighted the insurgency's potential to expand beyond its rural strongholds.
Afghan security forces, who had retreated to the outlying airport after the fall, began a counter-strike yesterday, backed by reinforcements.
"The operation to recapture Kunduz city began at 8am (0330 GMT) yesterday," the defence ministry said in a statement.
US forces also conducted an air strike in Kunduz province yesterday, a Nato statement said, without specifying the target.
The strike was carried out to "eliminate a threat to Afghan and coalition forces", the statement added.
Deputy Interior Minister Ayoub Salangi said earlier that security forces were ready to retake the city, and vowed to investigate how the Taleban managed to seize a major urban centre for the first time in 14 years.
Marauding insurgents stormed the local jail, freeing hundreds of prisoners, including some Taleban commanders, officials said.
Kunduz was swarming with Taleban fighters racing stolen police vehicles, who officials said, overran the governor's compound and the police headquarters.
But the defence ministry yesterday claimed that the police headquarters and city prison had been retaken.
Scores of unidentified bodies littered the streets after hours of heavy fighting, said local residents, many of whom were making a hasty exit from Kunduz - some by road, as others headed to the airport.
The Taleban's incursion into Kunduz, barely nine months after the Nato combat mission concluded, raises troubling questions over the capacity of Afghan forces, as they battle militants largely on their own.
Kunduz province, which borders Tajikistan and is a major transport hub for the north of the country, could offer the Taleban a critical new base of operations beyond their traditional southern strongholds.