Taliban hold out in northern Afghan city, district in northeast falls

KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban fighters were holding out against Afghan troops in Kunduz on Friday, a day after government forces recaptured most of the northern city that had fallen to the militants in their biggest victory of a 14-year insurgency.

In Jalalabad in the east of the country, a U.S. military transport plane crashed at an airfield just after midnight, killing all 11 people on board, the U.S. military said.

The Taliban said it had shot down the aircraft, but the U.S. military, which still has several thousands troops in Afghanistan after NATO’s combat mission ended, said there were no reports of enemy fire and described the crash as an accident.

In Badakhsan province in Afghanistan’s northeast, the Taliban took control of Warduj district late on Thursday after heavy fighting, according to Nawid Forotan, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

Residents in Kunduz, a strategic city of 300,000 that fell to the Taliban in a stunning pre-dawn attack on Monday, said that while most Taliban fighters had fled, some were holed up in civilian homes fighting the army.Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Friday they had taken control of Kunduz, a claim denied by the Afghan government.”We have beaten up the enemy forces,” Mujahid said. The Taliban have been accused of extrajudicial killings, raping, torturing, looting and setting fire to government buildings during their three-day occupation of Kunduz, the Afghan president’s office said on Friday.

“Afghanistan is committed to legally prosecute the

perpetrators of these crimes, and to that end, assigns a civilian commission to assess the losses sustained as a result of the Taliban presence,” a statement said.

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At least 60 people have been killed in the fighting as of Friday, according to a Health Ministry spokesman. He said hospitals in Kunduz had treated about 466 wounded.

Ahmad Sahil, a producer for local Afghan television in the city, said many people were still too afraid to leave their houses.

“The Taliban who knew Kunduz left the city already, but many foreign fighters could not flee and are hiding in people’s homes in some parts of the city center and are still resisting,” Sahil said on Friday.

Hamdullah Danishi, acting governor of Kunduz province, described the capital as calm, and said there was “no major fighting”.

He acknowledged, however, that the insurgents had not been completely driven from Kunduz. “Taliban are still in civilian houses and buildings,” Danishi said. “They are using civilians as human shields.”

TALIBAN GAINS IN NORTHEASTThe International Committee of the Red Cross said it was increasingly concerned about the welfare of citizens inside the city and the lack of medical supplies and personnel.

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“We are very short-staffed in the hospitals,” said Peter Esmith Ewoi, an ICRC doctor working in the city. “The medical staff in the city cannot get to the hospitals because of the on-going fighting.”The ICRC said it has emergency medical supplies ready to be flown in as soon as security at Kunduz airport improves.

In a worrying sign for government forces struggling to contain a growing militant threat, the Taliban made territorial gains elsewhere in the country, although on a smaller scale than the brief seizure of Kunduz.

“Our forces did not get reinforcements on time,” Forotan said of the loss of Warduj district in Badakhshan. “Taliban were in big numbers, therefore our forces retreated.” The Taliban said they killed 50 soldiers and gained control of 28 checkposts in a district of Badakhshan province that has been fought over for years.

It occupies a position along a highway to the border with Tajikistan and also shares a border with China and Pakistan.

The attack started when Taliban militants raided checkpoints in several villages, overrunning reinforcements and seizing control late in the afternoon, according to a government report. The police headquarters in Warduj fell at around 6 p.m. it said.

At least two policemen were killed in the battle, while three others were reported missing.

Writing by Kay Johnson and Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Mike Collett-White