NATO forces aid Afghan troops in Taliban-held Kunduz

NATO said on Wednesday its special forces joined Afghan troops in Kunduz to try to push back Taliban insurgents who seized the city, repelled a counter-offensive and advanced on the airport to shore up their biggest victory in 14 years.

Kunduz: NATO said on Wednesday its special forces joined Afghan troops in Kunduz to try to push back Taliban insurgents who seized the city, repelled a counter-offensive and advanced on the airport to shore up their biggest victory in 14 years.

Heavy fighting was underway near the northern city's airport, where government forces are holed up, highlighting the potent challenge the militants pose after their lightning capture of Kunduz.

The Taliban also captured the military hilltop of Bala Hisar today, tightening their grip on Kunduz and leaving all but the airport under the control of Afghan forces.

The Taliban's occupation -- now in its third day -- raises troubling questions about the capabilities of Afghan forces as they battle the militants largely on their own after NATO's combat mission ended last December.

The Afghan army was supposed to be bolstered by its own reinforcements for the campaign to retake Kunduz, but Taliban ambushes on convoys headed for the city meant that back-up troops were only trickling in.

"The Taliban have laid landmines and booby traps around Kunduz, slowing the movement of convoys of Afghan army reinforcements driving to the city," an Afghan security official told AFP.

NATO said the foreign special forces had reached Kunduz and US forces had conducted three air strikes around the city since Tuesday to support the Afghan troops.

The forces are comprised of US, British and German troops, a Western military source told AFP on condition of anonymity, without specifying the number.

But a government spokesman in Berlin said the German troops who reached Kunduz on Tuesday left the city on the same day.

The fall of the provincial capital, which sent thousands of panicked residents fleeing, has dealt a major blow to the Afghan military and highlighted the insurgency's potential to expand beyond its rural strongholds.

The Afghan security official said the militants had slowly infiltrated Kunduz during the recent Eid festival, launching a Trojan horse attack that enabled them to capture it within hours.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the fall of the city on Monday -- achieved by a militant force significantly smaller than the army contingent -- was "obviously" a setback but the US believed Afghan authorities would be able to regain control. 

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