2 October 2015

U.S. and NATO SOF Troops Taking Part in Combat Operations Outside Kunduz

Tim Craig
September 30, 2015

U.S. troops dispatched to Kunduz to help Afghan forces

KABUL — Special forces from the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan fought Taliban militants early Wednesday after being dispatched to the northern city of Kunduz to help Afghan forces re-take it from insurgents who seized it earlier this week, a coalition spokesman said.

The forces were on a mission near Kunduz airport where hundreds of Afghan forces based themselves after retreating from the city, the spokesman told the Reuters news agency.

The report came shortly after the coalition announced that American troops had been dispatched to the embattled city of Kunduz, which the Taliban seized during a lightning strike Monday, dealing a major blow to Afghanistan’s Western-backed government.

The key city of Kunduz is the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since 2001.

“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,” Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the coalition, told Reuters.

“U.S. forces conducted an airstrike to eliminate the threat in Kunduz.”

Tribus would not say what nationality the special forces were, but when asked if the statement meant they had engaged in combat, he said “Yes,” Reuters reported.

The rules of engagement for U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan allow them to fight if they are threatened by insurgents.

Earlier, Col. Tribus said the troops were sent to Kunduz to “train, advise and assist” Afghan forces. That statement marked the first time that coalition officials publicly confirmed they are actively involved in boosting the Afghan troops on the ground there.

He said the troops involved a combination of American special forces as well as troops from other countries that make up the international coalition.

Coalition officials declined to release the number of troops now present in Kunduz, when they arrived or where they are stationed, citing “operational security” concerns.

But Tribus said coalition special forces will be “advising and assisting Afghan special forces units in the area who are working to clear the city of Kunduz.”

Some coalition troops assigned to conventional military units are also in Kunduz to support the Afghan army.

U.S. forces are also continuing airstrikes against Taliban fighters who pose a threat “to the force.”

Two airstrikes were conducted Tuesday near the airport on the outskirts of the city. The airport is a key staging ground for the Afghan military, but Taliban fighters had been advancing toward it. U.S. forces conducted a third airstrike early Wednesday, also near the airport, Tribus said.

“All three strikes were conducted for coalition protection reasons,” Tribus said.

About 13,200 coalition troops remain in Afghanistan to help train and advise the Afghan military. Of those, 6,800 are American. There are also 3,000 American troops in Afghanistan to support or carry out U.S. counter-terrorism missions.

On Wednesday, the coalition announced a soldier had been killed in northern Afghanistan due to a “non battle cause.” Officials stressed the death was not related to the ongoing conflict in Kunduz.

The fight to reclaim Kunduz — Afghanistan’s sixth-largest city and a strategic gateway to Central Asia — is one of the Afghan military’s biggest tests in its campaign against the Taliban, and it raises questions about the withdrawal timetable for U.S. and other coalition troops.

“Obviously, this is a setback for the Afghan security forces,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Tuesday. “But we’ve seen them respond in recent weeks and months to the challenges they face, and they’re doing the same thing in Kunduz right now.”

Defense officials expressed optimism that Afghan forces, including commandos and special forces, would quickly expel from Kunduz the estimated 500 Taliban fighters in the city.

A U.S. military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss operations, said in Washington on Tuesday that the Taliban attacked Kunduz partly “for publicity purposes.”

“They did what they had to do, and they’re going to take a beating [getting] out of there,” the official said, predicting that Afghan forces would dislodge the militants from the city within weeks.

The counteroffensive, however, did not appear to be going as well as hoped.

Safiullah Ahmadi, a Kunduz official who is helping to oversee the government response, said in an interview earlier Tuesday that Afghan forces had retaken the main police station in Kunduz.

But Ahmadi said that Taliban fighters still control large sections of the city, including major government buildings, and that “a big operation” was needed to dislodge them.

Mirza Laghmani, a resident, said Tuesday night that “intense fighting” raged near the airport, with government forces facing ambush-style attacks by the Taliban on roads leading into the city center.

Meanwhile, casualties mounted. The aid group Doctors Without Borders said its trauma hospital in Kunduz has been “inundated” with more than 170 injured patients, including many suffering from gunshot wounds.

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