The second battle of Kunduz commenced on October 3. The Taliban briefly captured the city (Afghanistan’s 5th largest) in September 2015, before voluntarily withdrawing. It was an embarrassing defeat for the ISAF & allies. Afghan soldiers and police dropped their weapons and fled; it was only the timely intervention of US Green Berets special forces that prevented Kunduz’ surrounded airport from falling completely and securing a total Taliban victory.
Now the Taliban are back, attacking the city from four sides on October 3. They easily took control of several checkpoints and the city centre as the Afghan forces (once again) abandoned weapons and fled to the airport or to outlying regions. When evening came the local police chief Kassim Jangal Bagh and the NATO–led Resolute Support Mission claimed the city centre was regained and that all is well.
Only, all is anything but well. RSM was later forced to backpedal and release a very ambiguous statement which nonchalantly claimed that the international coalition is maintaining “robust enablers” and US will “support as needed”. Not only that, but several different accounts from a variety of media outlets confirmed that the Afghan control of the city is anything but “robust” (even after special forces and reinforcements were rushed in). China’s xinhuanet.com reported heavy fighting – not “sporadic clashes”. Al-Jazeera also reported fierce combat, with the New York Times indicating that little more than half the city was (precariously) held by Kabul’s forces by October 4.
Second precinct police commander Shafi Zakhil claimed the area around the governor’s office had become a front line. Furthermore, the situation has become so tenuous that US special forces have been deployed (as General Petraeus admits) around the governor’s office and the police compound to avoid a total collapse of the Afghan forces.
“I am in Fatema Zahra School, which is in front of the governor’s office, and it is the front line”, Shafi said. “U.S. forces are around the governor’s office and the police headquarters with their tanks. Taliban are on top of a building near the governor’s office and police headquarters.” A Taliban report from their website backed this up with detail; Taliban fighters are only 100 meters away from the governor’s residence. The residence is in the very heart of the city – which the Taliban were supposed to have been pushed out of. Provincial council member Amruddin Wali bluntly accused the security forces of lying about Kunduz, raging that while they did indeed control the city centre, “You can’t go past the main square without armoured vehicles!”
Things only got worse for the ISAF. Even though US ground forces were present, and even though the USAF was conducting airstrikes, the Taliban gained even more ground on the 5th. Although parts of the city centre and some government buildings remain under the control of the US marines and their allies, the rest of the city seems to have fallen. Tolo News claims only the governor’s compound and a few other government and security forces’ buildings are still controlled by US & Afghan forces. The Taliban control the rest. In other words, the ISAF forces are besieged in the central Kunduz just as they are in Helmand. The Taliban released footage from parts of Kunduz supposedly in government hands in which they denied any ANA gains.
You wouldn’t think it from the media coverage, however. The Huffington post parroted Afghan officials’ claims about “major gains” – in other words, only managing to tenuously cling to a town square, despite air cover and heavy weapons (insert slow clapping gifs here). The BBC practically regurgitated Kunduz governor Amarkhil’s statement claiming the Taliban were “defeated” and cites the police chief of Kunduz who claims “hundreds” of Taliban fighters were killed within several hours. Kabul’s forces are “flushing out” the Taliban from the city in the parallel universe of The West Australian. Maybe they should tell that to the English-speaking Taliban fighter filmed at a calm checkpoint in the city. “Tomorrow we take the White House!” he jokes confidently.
The media coverage of recent events in Kunduz simply doesn’t reflect the situation on the ground, giving the misleading impression that the Taliban is on the run. This is probably because the counter-offensive isn’t going as planned. US forces, Afghan troops and allied militiamen have ended up besieged in the middle of the very city they vowed was secure, a repeat of September 2015. Which seems to include bombardment of civilian areas as collective punishment yet again. The ANA has been madly spraying the city with artillery shells, some of which struck Haidari market and caused an unspecified number of deaths and injuries, bringing back memories of the attack on Kunduz’ hospital by the USAF. Afghan forces have also been caught on camera using civilian homes as firing points, despite Afghan officials denying this and attributing it to the Taliban.
This time around, the Taliban aren’t withdrawing and leaving the ISAF to claim victory. A damage control effort by media outlets (especially in Europe and the US) seems to be attempting to compensate for an unwelcome turn of events for Kabul and Washington.