US Special Forces engage Taliban in fighting at Kunduz airport

US Special Forces battled the Taliban forces that laid siege to the main airport in Kunduz city in northern Afghanistan. The fighting at the airport started on Sept. 29, just one day after the Taliban seized control of the city.

The engagement between Coalition forces belonging to Operation Resolute Support and Taliban fighters was confirmed by spokesman Colonel Brian Tribus. “Coalition special forces advisers, while advising and assisting elements of the Afghan Security Forces, encountered an insurgent threat in the vicinity of the Kunduz airport at approximately 1 a.m., 30 September,” he said, according to Reuters.

In a brief statement, Tribus said that the Special Forces unit engaged the Taliban “out of self-defense. When they encountered the threat, they defended themselves.”

“They are in a non-combat role,” Tribus insisted. “That said, they also maintain the right to defend.”

A senior Afghan military official confirmed that US Special Forces engaged the Taliban outside of Kunduz Airport. According to Reuters, an estimated “100 members of US special forces fought off Taliban attackers threatening to breach the airport.”

In addition to US Special Forces fighting on the ground, Operation Resolute Support has launched at least three airstrikes against the Taliban in Kunduz since the city fell. Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security claimed that one airstrike killed Mullah Adbul Salam, the Taliban’s shadow governor for Kunduz, and “Haris,” a Lashkar-e-Taiba commander. Taliban supporters on Twitter and Facebook have denied that Salam was killed in the strike. Salam, who was detained in Pakistan for several years before being released and returning to the fight, was last seen in public in late August with hundreds of fighters while swearing allegiance to Mullah Mansour, the new Taliban emir.

The Taliban advanced on Kunduz Airport after storming Kunduz city on Sept. 28. Kunduz, with a population of more than 300,000 people, is the first city to fall to the Taliban since the US ejected the jihadist group from power in late 2001 and 2002.

Maintaining control of the airport is vital if Afghan security forces hope to regain control of Kunduz city. Taliban fighters have dug in and mined all three main roads leading into Kunduz, making it difficult for Afghan reinforcements to arrive on the ground. The Taliban claimed that it beat back Afghan military reinforcements moving northward to the airport from Baghlan province. Afghan officials have confirmed that reinforcements have been unable to reach Kunduz Airport by road.

The Taliban has made significant gains in the north since launching its offensive in Kunduz this spring. The districts of Imam Sahib, Aliabad, and Qala-i-Zal were overrun in the initial assault, while Chardara and Dasht-i-Archi fell in mid-June. Khanabad fell under Taliban control the same day that Kunduz fell. Of the seven districts in the province, only the districts of Kunduz and Imam Sahib are contested.

In addition to taking effective control of Kunduz province, the Taliban likely overran three districts in the neighboring province of Takhar. The Taliban claimed to overrun the district centers in Yangi Qala, Ishkamish, and Bangi. While the reports have not been independently confirmed, the Taliban has accurately reported the takeover of districts in the past.

In the southwest part of the country, the Taliban also claimed it overran the district of Khaki Safid in Farah province. The district has been contested for at least a year, and also was the scene of fighting between the Taliban and the Islamic State in late May.

The Taliban has made significant advances throughout the country this year, despite the presence of nearly 10,000 US soldiers and thousands of NATO troops.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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