Afghan officials claim government forces retake Kunduz from Taliban

Afghan government officials told multiple news outlets Thursday that the city of Kunduz had been retaken from Taliban fighters.

Hamdullah Danishi, the acting governor of Kunduz, told Reuters that security forces "got control of Kunduz city from Taliban overnight after heavy fighting ... After we got reinforcement and started a massive operation inside Kunduz city Taliban could not resist and escaped."

Afghanistan's Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi also claimed the city had been retaken in a message on Twitter.

Sediqqi told the Associated Press the operation was launched late Wednesday, with ground forces moving from the Kunduz airport -- where they had massed since the city fell to the Taliban -- over roads that had been mined by the insurgents.

Sediqqi claimed that control of the "city was taken by 3.30 a.m." on Thursday but conceded that an operation "to clear the city is ongoing" and could take some days.

He told The Associated Press the battle to retake Kunduz is a joint army and police operation and that roadblocks set up by the Taliban to prevent any movement had been removed. He said essential supplies, including food and medicine, would be delivered soon to the residents.

Sediqqi said around 200 Taliban fighters have been killed in the fighting so far but did not provide a figure for government casualties.

Kunduz police chief, Sarwar Hussaini, said bodies of dead Taliban fighters lay on some of the city's streets but that the clearance operation was complicated because some Taliban had hidden inside people's homes.

Residents reported street battles and gunfire in various areas of the city.

Zabihullah, a Kunduz resident living close to the main city square, who like many Afghans prefers to use one name, said that "intense fighting is continuing on the streets of city."

"The situation is really critical and getting worse, and I've just heard a huge explosion from a bomb near my house," he said, speaking to the AP over the telephone from his home.

It was difficult to immediately gauge how much of Kunduz was secured by the Afghan forces. The capture of the city by the Taliban, which began with a coordinated attack Monday, had taken the government, military and intelligence agencies by surprise.

On Wednesday, Afghan troops, backed by U.S. airstrikes, massed on the outskirts of the city and at the Kunduz airport in a buildup of what was expected to be a long and difficult campaign to drive out the Taliban.

At least three U.S. airstrikes had targeted Taliban fighters near the city as of early Wednesday. U.S. Army spokesman, Col. Brian Tribus, said that U.S. and NATO coalition advisers, including special forces, were also at the scene "in the Kunduz area, advising Afghan security forces."

He denied reports that they were fighting on the ground, stressing the forces were there in a non-combat, train-and-assist role. "But these are dangerous situations and if they need to defend themselves, they will," Tribus added.

Kunduz, 108 miles north of Kabul, has been the scene of Taliban attacks since April, when the insurgents launched their annual summer offensive with an attempt to take control of the city.

The surrounding province, also called Kunduz, is one of the country's most important grain producers, has rich mineral resources and borders Tajikistan. Its strategic routes to neighboring countries in the east, north and west and to the capital, Kabul, mean huge sums can be earned from smuggling drugs, minerals and weapons across borders.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.