As early as yesterday, Kabul was still trumpeting a big win over the Taliban, claiming that Afghan security forces had taken and were managing to hold most of Kunduz after retaking it with U.S. support. Some Taliban, mostly foreign fighters, were still holed up and fighting on in several civilian neighborhoods, but overall, government officials claimed, the situation was settling down.
But as of today, it’s clear the fighting is not quite yet over. In what what probably a tragic miscalculation in the heat of a firefight, it appears that an AC-130 gunship may have fired upon a hospital in Kunduz, killing 19 doctors and patients, and injuring 37. Reuters:
“Thick black smoke could be seen rising from some of the rooms,” he said after a visit to the hospital. “The fighting is still going on, so we had to leave.” […]
Resident Khodaidad told Reuters the Taliban had been using the hospital buildings for cover during fighting on Friday.
“I could hear sounds of heavy gunfire, explosions and airplanes throughout the night,” he said. “There were several huge explosions and it sounded like the roof was falling on me.”
Earlier, a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a U.S. military AC-130 gunship had been operating in the area, firing at Taliban targets to provide what was essentially defensive, close-air support to ground forces.
Tragedy aside, so much for all of this week’s claims of Kunduz being pacified. It appears that while the Taliban have pulled back, they are still very much contesting the city.
Meanwhile, late last week, news was emerging that yet another province in the north east of the country, Warduj district in Badakhshan, had fallen to a Taliban onslaught. “Our forces did not get reinforcements on time,” a local commander complained, echoing the words of frustrated commanders who have been fighting (and losing ground) around Kunduz all summer. “Taliban were in big numbers, therefore our forces retreated.”
Noted Afghanistan expert Ahmed Rashid said that the Taliban’s recent gains portend a “new stage of the war.” He predicted: “[Kunduz] will be divided…There will be continuous fighting within the city and around the city. The Taliban has spent more than a year consolidating their grip in northern Afghanistan, and I don’t think retaking Kunduz is going to drive the Taliban out of the large rural areas that they control.” It’s looking more and more that he might be right.