18 March 2015, NYT: Afghan Militia Leaders, Empowered by U.S. to Fight Taliban, Inspire Fear in Villages
23 October 2014, NYT: Taliban Are Rising Again in Afghanistan's North
APRIL 28, 2015
Afghan Troops Rush to Kunduz Amid Taliban Assault
By MUJIB MASHAL and JAWAD SUKHANYAR
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Afghan government has rushed thousands of troops to the northern province of Kunduz in recent days as a fierce Taliban offensive has surrounded the regional capital city, officials said.
An entire battalion of the Afghan National Army was reported to be surrounded by the insurgents, and the authorities stripped troops from other provinces to reinforce Kunduz. President Ashraf Ghani delayed a trip  to India on Monday for an emergency meeting with his military leaders and the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John F. Campbell.
The assault on Kunduz city, which began Friday, is the cornerstone of the Taliban's spring offensive. Already, the fighting is posing a dire test of the Afghan security forces, which struggled on multiple fronts last year after taking the lead from coalition forces.
Although the city came under threat last summer, when Taliban forces loyal to the commander Mullah Abdul Salam settled in to rule several of the outlying districts,  Afghan officials seemed unprepared for the scope of the new assault over the weekend.
"Kunduz city is surrounded from four directions," said Muhammad Yousuf Ayoubi, the provincial council chief. "If the government does not pay urgent attention, there is serious risk of it falling to the Taliban."
The Taliban have targeted four districts surrounding the city, displacing nearly 2,000 families, according to provincial council members. The militants have effectively taken over Gortepa, a suburb of the capital, just about three miles from the provincial government offices, said Qadir Hussainkhel, a former head of the council. "It is a big part of the city," he said. "The Taliban control it now."
Of the other districts under fire, Imam Sahib, to the north, has been the worst hit. Large numbers of insurgents, including Uzbek, Tajik and Chechen militants, advanced on the district center from three directions, according to Amanuddin Qureshi, the district governor, who has fled the government center there.
At a military base in Imam Sahib, the insurgents have cut roads and supply routes, and one battalion of about 400 Afghan National Army soldiers is surrounded, with resupply possible only by air, according to Mr. Qureshi and two other local officials. But Gen. Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Kabul, insisted that the battalion had not been stranded.
"If we don't get reinforcements, the town will fall into the hands of the Taliban," Mr. Qureshi warned in a telephone interview.
Sediq Sediqqi, the spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, maintained that reinforcements would be enough to push back the Taliban. In Imam Sahib, he said, a clearance operation begun late on Monday killed 27 Taliban members, including three commanders. He did not give government casualty numbers.
Despite concerns that the fighting this year would again be intense and require the full attention of the government, the new power-sharing administration under Mr. Ghani is a work in progress. The post of defense minister is still unfilled, and the army commander and most of the country's provincial governors are temporary appointees.
The intensity of the violence around Kunduz sent the government scrambling to respond, with three high-level visits to Kunduz on Monday alone, and with confusion and dissension reported among some of the forces fighting back against the insurgents.
The provincial head of the Afghan Local Police, militia forces  that have often been on the front lines of fighting against the Taliban, was scornful. "The army and the police don't coordinate the operations with the A.L.P.," said the forces' leader, Sayed Dawood Hashemi. "We are used as firewood in the fighting."
Despite requests for assistance from the security forces, one A.L.P. unit with dozens of men was forced to retreat from the neighborhood of Talawka, on the outskirts of Kunduz, allowing Taliban fighters to flood in, according to a member of the provincial council. Elsewhere, 26 A.L.P. fighters have been captured by the Taliban and two killed, Mr. Hashemi said.
Intense fighting started relatively early this year. Two weeks before the official start of their spring offensive, the Taliban attacked Afghan Army positions in remote Badakhshan Province, with hundreds of fighters overrunning Jurm District, abducting and killing dozens of soldiers,  some of whom were reportedly beheaded. The government says it has begun a counteroffensive in Badakhshan, even as heavy fighting has been reported in several other northern provinces, including Sar-i-Pul, Jowzjan and Faryab.
With so many battles raging across the country, visiting army officials have told provincial council members in Kunduz that the best they can do is push back the enemy a bit, and that they cannot afford to sustain a longer operation, according to Mr. Ayoubi, the council chief in Kunduz.
In the meantime, irregular militias that were once funded by the United States as bastions against the Taliban have largely been on their own.
In Qala-i-Zal District, the 300 men under a commander named Nabi Gechi have been trying to fend off the Taliban advance. After five days of sustained small-arms and mortar fire from the insurgents, Mr. Gechi said, his militia was forced to retreat from one of its posts, with three men killed and a dozen wounded.
"The people of Qala-i-Zal are paying for the ammunition and food to supply us enough so we can stand up to the Taliban attacks," he said.