KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan forces battled the Taliban in the northern city of Kunduz for the third straight day on Wednesday and American helicopters provided air support to troops on the ground in the wake of the multipronged attack on the city launched by insurgents this week.
The fighting in Kunduz, which fell briefly to the Taliban a year ago, came as Afghanistan's leaders and officials from over 70 nations gathered in Brussels, seeking to drum up billions of dollars for the cash-strapped Kabul government as it battles the powerful Taliban insurgency and rampant corruption.
Afghan Gen. Qasim Jungalbagh, the provincial police chief, said Taliban gunmen launched fresh attacks on Afghan forces in Kunduz from the south and east early on Wednesday.
He said "clearance operations" have begun inside the city but that heavy clashes continue on the outskirts. "Once again insurgents attacked our forces from two different directions and heavy battles are taking place to the south and east of the city," Jungalbagh said.
Since pushing into Kunduz on Monday and briefly hoisting their flag at a main intersection, the Taliban were pushed back but their fighters hunkered down in residential homes, slowing the counter-offensive by the Afghans.
The U.S. military was providing air support to Afghan forces fighting Wednesday to secure a number of areas in the city, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Charlie Cleveland said.
The U.S. military spokesman described the fighting as "sporadic," saying that since Tuesday night, "U.S. forces have conducted two engagements from the air to defend friendly forces." He did not provide further details.
Jungalbagh said 42 insurgents have been killed and more than 25 others wounded in the battles. Earlier, the Defense Ministry said five Afghan security personnel were killed and 13 others wounded.
Mohammad Yusouf Ayubi, head of the Kunduz provincial council, said food prices have almost tripled since the attack began and that food, water and electricity are all in short supply.
The Taliban said in a statement emailed to media that they have taken the Kunduz office of the national intelligence agency but the claim could not be immediately confirmed and the insurgents regularly exaggerate battlefield successes.
Kunduz, a major crossroads in the country's north, briefly fell to the Taliban a year ago before they were beaten back by Afghan forces with the help of U.S. airstrikes.
Associated Press writer Lynne O'Donnell in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.