U.S. special forces join Afghans in fight to retake Kunduz
Senior Afghan official says about 100 members of U.S. special forces fought off Taliban attackers
Special forces from the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan battled insurgents on Wednesday near the northern city of Kunduz that was captured by the Taliban this week, a coalition spokesman and Afghan official said.
It was the first report of on-the-ground clashes between Taliban militants and foreign troops supporting their Afghan allies during three days of sometimes heavy fighting for control of the strategic city of 300,000.
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Kunduz is the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since the hardline Islamist movement was toppled from power in 2001.
At least three U.S. air strikes have also targeted Taliban positions in and around the city.
Taliban fighters have dug into positions around Kunduz and mined roads to prevent reinforcements from reaching beleaguered Afghan forces in the area.
The insurgents have also launched a series of attacks on Kunduz airport, where thousands of government police and soldiers are gathered after retreating from the city.
Coalition spokesman Col. Brian Tribus gave few details, but confirmed foreign troops had engaged insurgents while supporting Afghan forces.
"Coalition special forces advisers, while advising and assisting elements of the Afghan Security Forces, encountered an insurgent threat in the vicinity of the Kunduz airport at approximately 1 a.m., 30 September," Tribus said.
He confirmed special forces fought the insurgents, but added: "This was done out of self-defence. When they encountered the threat, they defended themselves."
Tribus declined to detail the special forces' nationalities.
A senior Afghan security official said about 100 members of U.S. special forces fought off Taliban attackers threatening to breach the airport in the early hours of Wednesday.
The heavily armed troops, wearing night-vision goggles, left the airport and killed the assailants before returning, added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
An undisclosed number of coalition troops were dispatched to Kunduz this week to support the Afghan army and police who have failed so far to retake the city from the Taliban.
"They are in a non-combat role. That said, they also maintain the right to defend," Tribus said of the coalition forces.
NATO had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at its peak, but most had withdrawn by the end of 2014 and the far smaller mission now is designed to "train, assist and advise" local forces.
Despite promises by Afghan government officials to retake Kunduz quickly, the lack of reinforcements and the Taliban's aggressive tactics point to a potentially long and bloody fight.
Wahidullah Maya, a spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, said on Twitter that 30 people had been killed and more than 200 injured in Kunduz fighting.
"Around 90 per cent of them are civilians," he said.
Many civilians fled during the surprise attack early on Monday, but thousands remain trapped.