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Nearly a Year After US Pulls Combat Troops Out of Afghanistan, Combat Continues

It was the first report of on-the-ground clashes between foreign forces and Taliban militants in three days of heavy fighting in the area.
Photo by Najim Rahim/AP

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United States-led coalition forces in Afghanistan battled Taliban fighters Wednesday near Kunduz, after the militant group captured the strategic northern city earlier this week.

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 city of 300,000.

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The foreign forces were initially brought in to advise Afghan troops after the Taliban claimed control, but they quickly entered the fray after an "insurgent threat" in the vicinity of the city's airport on Wednesday, according to a coalition spokesman.

A senior Afghan security official said about 100 members of US special forces fought off Taliban attackers threatening to breach the airport in the early hours of Wednesday.

Related: US Launches Airstrikes Against Taliban in Overrun City of Kunduz

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.

US special forces had been advising Afghan troops while operating from a temporary base at the Kunduz airport for several weeks, according to a special forces commander.

NATO had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at its peak, but most had withdrawn by the end of 2014 and the far smaller mission now is designed to "train, assist, and advise" local forces.

On Tuesday, Afghani President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani confirmed that foreign troops had teamed up with local forces in an effort to clear Kunduz from "terrorist groups."

At a press conference on Tuesday, Ghani said that reinforcements, including a national army battalion, a number of special forces, and commando personnel, have arrived in Kunduz province and "are prepared to give any sacrifice to frustrate the attempts of the enemies of the people of Afghanistan who want to disrupt security on orders of others."

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But Taliban fighters have dug into positions around the city and mined roads to prevent reinforcements from reaching weary Afghan forces.

Related: Taliban Fighters Raise Flag Above Afghan Provincial Capital After Deadly Three-Pronged Attack

Kunduz is the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since the hard-line Islamist movement was toppled from power in 2001.

At least three US air strikes have targeted Taliban positions near the city since the fighting broke out on Monday.

Afghanistan's intelligence agency said in a statement issued late Tuesday that an air strike had killed Mullah Abdul Salam, the Taliban's shadow governor for Kunduz province, and 15 others on the outskirts of the airport.

Despite assurances by the Afghan government that progress was being made in Kunduz, the lack of reinforcements and the Taliban's aggressive tactics point to a potentially long and bloody fight.

Wahidullah Mayar, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, said on Twitter that 30 people had been killed and more than 200 injured in Kunduz fighting. He said almost all were civilians.

Many civilians fled during the surprise attack early on Monday, but thousands remain trapped.