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US Military Launches Strike on Afghan City Taken by Taliban

Taliban prisoners walk on a street after their comrades released them from the main jail in Kunduz, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Hekmat Aimaq)
Taliban prisoners walk on a street after their comrades released them from the main jail in Kunduz, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Hekmat Aimaq)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The U.S. military carried out an airstrike on Tuesday on the northern Afghan city of Kunduz, which was captured by the Taliban the previous day in a major setback to the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

On the ground, Afghan forces were regrouping to try and take back this city of nearly 300,000 people -- the first urban area seized by the Taliban since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted their regime.

The city fell Monday, after hundreds of Taliban gunmen launched a coordinated, multi-pronged attack at several points around the city. After a day of fierce fighting, they managed to overrun government buildings and hoisted their flag in the city square. The fast-moving assault took the military and intelligence authorities by surprise.

U.S. Army Col. Brian Tribus, the spokesman for the U.S. and NATO missions in Afghanistan, said the early Tuesday morning airstrike was conducted "in order to eliminate a threat to the force" -- though there were no foreign troops left inside the city. He did not elaborate if more airstrikes would follow.

Afghanistan rushed military reinforcements to the region and began an operation to retake the city, according to a Defense Ministry statement. A newly-built police headquarters and the prison in Kunduz were already freed from the Taliban and taken back, the statement said.

That claim could not independently be verified as the city was off limits to media. Residents, reached over the phone by The Associated Press, said sporadic gunfire could still be heard around the city on Tuesday morning. They spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.

During the Taliban assault on the city on Monday, the insurgents had freed around 600 inmates -- including 144 members of the Taliban -- from Kunduz prison, officials said.

In Kabul, the National Security Council was to meet later Tuesday over the fall of Kunduz, a government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss government plans.

The International Red Cross said it had evacuated two of its three international staff from Kunduz, flying them to the nearby city of Mazar-I-Sharif. The U.N. office in Kunduz was also evacuated.

The city's fall comes as Ghani marks one year office. The president, who has staked his presidency on pledges of bringing peace to Afghanistan and who seeks to draw the Taliban to peace talks, was to address the nation later Tuesday.

Kunduz is one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Afghanistan, and the surrounding province, also called Kunduz, is one of the country's chief breadbaskets. It lies on a strategic crossroads connecting Afghanistan to Pakistan, China and Central Asia.

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