KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The latest developments as the Afghan government announced it has retaken control of the northern city of Kunduz, which was captured by the Taliban earlier this week (all times local).
Afghanistan's Interior Minister Noor-ul-Haq Ulumi says his ministry has "complete oversight over all 34 provinces." Appearing at a press conference in Kabul alongside President Ashraf Ghani, Ulumi seeks to explain how hundreds of Taliban fighters were able to enter the northern city of Kunduz during the recent Eid holiday and lay in wait until their operation to take the city was launched early Monday morning. "We never took our eyes off the ball," he said. "We had to protect citizens and so the security forces retreated."
Afghan security forces "have retaken all the neighborhoods that were under their control. There have been no fatalities on our side. Our security forces are always ready," he says.
Ulumi seemed to acknowledge that the Taliban was succeeding in making the government look ineffectual, saying the weakness of the government side "has always been in propaganda and marketing ourselves."
Acting Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai says operations to clear the Taliban from Kunduz continue. The insurgents still have a presence in various parts of the city, he tells a press conference. "The latest report is that small guerrilla forces remain in various neighborhoods. We have to clear all the surrounding areas and open transport links so people can come and go."
The fall of Kunduz and subsequent military operation to retake the city had "presented great challenges and great lessons" for the Afghan security forces, fighting the 14-year-old war alone since the withdrawal of international combat troops last year, Stanekzai said.
President Ashraf Ghani tells a televised press conference that Kunduz was brought back under government control after a six-hour military assault on Taliban fighters holding the city. "We thank God we had no fatalities," he said.
Afghanistan's security forces have been fighting in 13 of the country's 34 provinces simultaneously, he says. "They were able to foil one of the most significant operations to have taken place in Afghanistan in 14 years," he said of the security forces' success in Kunduz.
But he warned that the "good news" of the return to government control of Kunduz — overrun in a complex Taliban attack on Monday — "should not make us complacent."
"The war is ongoing," he said.
Fierce fighting is still underway as Afghan forces are trying to rout the Taliban fully out of the northern city of Kunduz, going street-to-street and searching far-flung neighborhoods were the insurgents have withdrawn to.
Provincial police spokesman Sarwar Hussaini says the operation is still underway and that "the Taliban have hidden themselves in people's homes" from where they are shooting.
He says four Taliban fighters were found hiding in the Kunduz municipality building. Hussaini says they opened fire at the Afghan troops from inside the building but "were soon shot dead by our forces."
Zabihullah, a resident who lives close to the main Kunduz square, says that amid the chaos, some people have looted and set fire to the main U.N. office in the city. The U.N. had evacuated its staff Monday, before the city fell to the Taliban.
U.N. spokesman Dominic Medley in Kabul said the mission staff were as yet unaware of the incident.
The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he has spoken via video teleconference with the military leadership on the ground in Kunduz to hear how the battle to retake the city from the Taliban is progressing.
The office's Twitter account says they discussed "the security situation and latest developments" on Thursday afternoon.
It says that Ghani has ordered defense and security authorities to continue the operations in Kunduz and "prioritize safety of civilians."
Aid workers are struggling to cope with the fighting underway in Kunduz as Afghan government troops battle street-to-street to push the Taliban out of this key northern city.
Doctors Without Borders, which runs a trauma center in Kunduz, says the group has so far treated 296 people wounded in the fighting since Monday, when the Taliban blitzed and captured Kunduz.
MSF says that they have had 40 dead but that the actual death toll is likely much higher since they are only able to help a fraction of the population of this city of 300,000 residents.
Kate Stegeman, MSF's communications officer in Afghanistan, says 64 of the wounded the group is looking after are children.
1: 15 p.m.
The Taliban appear to be resisting the Afghan government troops' push into Kunduz that has forced the insurgents to pull out of the city center into more far-flung neighborhoods.
Resident Munib Khan of the Bandr-i-Iman Sahib district in the west of the city, says Taliban fighters are armed with rocket-propelled grenades and that they are putting up a heavy fight.
Khan says the fighting on Thursday has taken front-stage to the "many problems inside the city," which now has "no water, no electricity."
As fighting is raging in the key northern Afghan city of Kunduz, hundreds of people gathered near the presidential palace in the capital, Kabul, to call for President Ashraf Ghani's resignation, blaming him for the situation in Kunduz.
One of the protesters, Foruzan Haydari, a 23-year-old student, says the people of Afghanistan "are not happy with this government, every day there is fighting."
Meanwhile, the presidential palace said Ghani had spoken with military leaders in Kunduz to get an update on the situation in the city.
Thursday's statement says Ghani spoke by videophone with Army Gen. Murad Ali Murad, who led the operation.
It also said the president will send a team to Kunduz to investigate how the Taliban were able to infiltrate the city.
The fall of Kunduz to the Taliban on Monday marked a major setback for Afghan government forces, who have struggled to combat insurgents with limited aid from the U.S. and NATO, which shifted to a training and support role at the end of last year.
The police chief of Kunduz province is seeking to reassure residents that the Afghan forces are in full control of the provincial capital, Kunduz, after pushing into the city overnight to drive the Taliban out.
Police chief Mohammad Qasim Jangalbagh told The Associated Press on Thursday that he is in "the center of the city now," speaking from the main city square.
He is urging Kunduz inhabitants to "continue their normal life."
But a Kunduz resident says heavy fighting is ongoing in the Khuja Mashhad area of the city, about 200 meters (218 yards) north of the city's main square.
Hameedullah, who like many Afghan men uses only one name, says that "everyone is staying indoors." He spoke over the phone to the AP.
He also says: "There are explosions, but I can't tell if they are bombs being dropped from the planes I can hear overhead, or rockets."
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid is claiming that the northern Afghan city of Kunduz is still in the hands of the insurgents and that "the Taliban flag is still flying" over the city.
Mujahid says that "life in Kunduz is normal" — an apparent attempt to refute government claims that Afghan forces retook control of much of Kunduz on Thursday. His remarks were posted on his Twitter account.
The Afghan forces pushed into the city in a joint military and police operation overnight.
Earlier in the morning, Mujahid had sent a text message to The Associated Press, saying that "the United States, with their puppets, have been bombing Kunduz city. Government forces have received heavy casualties."
Kunduz residents say that street fighting is ongoing in various parts of the city and that they can hear sporadic shooting outside.
Zabihullah, a resident who lives close to the main Kunduz square and who like many Afghan men uses only one name, says that "fighting is intensifying."
He says the "situation is really critical and getting worse, and I've just heard a huge explosion from a bomb near my house."
Zabihullah spoke to The Associated Press over the phone on Thursday morning.
Earlier, Sediq Sediqqi, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said an operation "to clear the city is ongoing" and could take some days.
He told the AP that a joint army and police operation was launched late Wednesday and after the push into Kunduz overnight, the "city was taken by 3.30 a.m." on Thursday.
—Lynne O'Donnell in Kabul, Afghanistan.